Antidote

A few months ago, during a sunny spring weekend that coincided with my 12th wedding anniversary, I read Alain de Botton's The Course of Love. I'd been hearing about the book for a while (and about de Botton for even longer) so I came to it with curiosity and an open mind. In hindsight, this is perhaps the best way to approach The Course of Love. It's a quirky kind of book, part novel, part how-to manual, a hybrid experiment in something I might call didactic fiction. Except didactic fiction sounds plodding and high-handed and The Course of Love is neither.

The book follows Rabih and Kirsten, a couple in Edinburgh. They meet, fall in love, marry, have children, and you as reader-voyeur follow the trajectory of their relationship. It's illuminating and honest and at various points along the way the narrator - sounding very much like a dispassionate anthropologist, a voice-over on one of those nature shows - interrupts with wry commentary. Musing on the fickleness of infatuation, for example, the narrator says: "The only people who can still strike us as normal are those we don’t yet know very well. The best cure for love is to get to know them better."

There were times when I genuinely burst out laughing. Or nodded in agreement. What de Botton has written is a necessary antidote to every false and silly notion we've been spoon-fed about love and romance and long-term commitment. It's the kind of book everyone should read when they are young, 19 or 20, and then again once a decade.