After finishing Alain de Botton's biography/novel KISS AND TELL, I found myself hoping on behalf of its putative subject Isabel Jane Rogers that this work is more fiction than fact. Or at least that "Isabel" is a composite of every young woman the author ever dated and not a real individual person. Although de Botton catalogs many of "Isabel's" quirky habits (her poor sense of geography, the way she picks her nose and chews on the callouses on her fingers, etc.), he exhibits enough of his own dubious traits (for instance, he admits letting her plants die unwatered while devouring half a box of her chocolates while house-sitting for her one time) to give us a sense that in some unprovable way, he is at least playing fair.
But under this delicious patina of pettiness, there are a number of more serious subjects. Such as the nature of biography itself. And whether our versions of ourselves are any more reliable than those of an outside observer. The nature of memory. And a comparison of the virtues and liabilities of the fat, detail-obsessed Boswelian biographies versus the "toast-sized", summary-style biographical sketches of an Aubrey. (Anyone who has read--or tried to write--an obituary for a family member will find the chapter "In Search of an Ending" fascinating.) And anyone who is familiar with de Botton's other works will not be surprised how he manages to draw the likes of Marcel Proust, Adam Smith, Frederick Nietzsche, Tolstoy, and Hippocrates into the conversation, as well as zany bits of pop psychology like graphology, palmistry, and magazine personality questionnaires. To support the trope that KISS AND TELL is a real biography, de Botton even provides a 12-page, fully functioning index (complete with entries on "toenails" and "sex.") As a work of fiction, KISS AND TELL isn't nearly as interesting as his earlier novel, ON LOVE, but it is an amusing book...and it will make you think about your own quirks and self-delusions.