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One for literary snobs
on 26 December 2000
I am a mixed de Botton fan (some books I love, some I loathe) and I didn't enjoy this because I read it after 'Consolations of Philosophy', which is much, much better. I have to say that de Botton does write well and with a great deal of charm but is this book really saying anything. For example: De botton spends a fair number of pages in Chapter 1 discussing how we see people we love in characters in books. He does this amusingly, including photos of his girlfriend, but at the end of the day, it is hardly a staggering point, or one of much relevance to anything, really. This is the case with much of the book. It all sounds very clever, but when you strip away the fancy words and distill the essence of the points, they are essentially quite shallow. In this respect, the book does perform a feat, in that it gives the illusion of saying very many profound things, when in fact it doesn't at all. It's the sort of book that literary snobs / upper class readers will therefore love - and who will be so won over by his writing style and the fact that he makes Proust accessible, they will fail to notice this error.
The other problem is that this book isn't really about Proust, it's about de Botton. Like 'THe Romantic Movement', it's a very narcisstic book, where de botton is more interested in his own ideas than his subject's. It's as if de Botton has laid out his own life philosophy and used Proust to prop him up. Proof of this is shown in the chapter on love, which echoes many of de Botton's theories in his earlier novels. Only this time round he manages to make it look as though they are really Proust's ideas, and he just happens to agree.
I just found this book far too pretentious for its own good. However, 'Consolations of Philosophy' is much better - somehow it is written with a great deal of humanity, and you sense de Botton really wishes to help people, but this one reads as though he is just showing off.