Essays in Love: Reviews

James Friel in Time Out, 27 October 1993

A well-heeled young couple meet on a plane and instantly fall for each other. They make love on the first date and, over a space of time, their relationship thrives, falters and finishes almost as abruptly as it began. It’s a familiar tale but there is nothing predictable about De Botton’s explanation of how love enthrals us all. This is no light romance but a sort of ‘When Harry Met Sally Meets Roland Barthes’.

Cast in the form of a series of academic essays, the novel analyses each stage of the affair and considers just what is this thing called love. De Botton calculates the probability of falling love at first sight on a British Airways flight (one chance in 5840.82). He draws diagrams to illustrate why there are those of us who can love only those who do not love us back and tells us why a lover’s gaze is like a kebab. Erudite and light-hearted, he brings in Aristotle, Wittgenstein, Heraclitus and Hegel, the French Revolution, a Chinese meal and a pair of shoes to demonstrate the problem that our need to love precedes our love for anyone in particular.

Plot is negligible, characterisation minimal, but the freshness and clarity of De Botton’s style enlivens what might sound worthy or merely clever. This is a novel of wit and insight; whatever the state of your love life, it will make entertaining and sometimes painful, sometimes profitable reading.

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