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A study of love
on 10 May 2006
In the first part of his novel, Mr de Botton introduces his main character, Alice, and discusses the notion of reality with the help of such philosophers as Heraclitus, Plato, Hegel or Shopenhauer and poses the question, following Oscar Wilde, whether art imitates life or life that imitates art. We may for instance like Paris more than London because we know the former city through the eyes of painters like Manet, Degas or Pissaro or through films by Truffaut or Godard. The author then discusses the difference between imitative and autonomous desire and then engages in the argument that Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary is the first novel (published in 1856) which links the two activities of sex and shopping which are psychologically intertwined.
Then Alice meets Eric at a party and this gives the author the opportunity to write about love, indeterminacy, the idealisation of the lover, the value systems in a love relationship or the power in love. Do we love the partner's money, body, achievements, weaknesses or anxieties? Is thinking problem-induced or problem-inducing? How does the cultural baggage of infancy and youth, of relations and traditions influence one's relationship with a partner?
This book is an original hybrid, part novel, part philosophical reverie which is not without charm. Some readers have complained that Alain de Botton all too often states the obvious and it is true that his novel does not present any revelations but it is enjoyable to read nevertheless.