A celebrated writer and award-winning TV presenter, Alain de Botton is often called a modern-day philosopher for his numerous essays and outlook on life. He was in his early twenties when his debut, Essays in Love, became an instant hit. Now, nearly 23 years later, Botton revisits fiction with The Course of Love — a story of what happens once the honeymoon period is over and the banal everyday realities take a toll on marriage. Excerpts from an interview:
When you wrote your first fiction, Essays in Love, you were only 23. Where did you get all the wisdom to write about the process of falling in and out of love in such details and universally relatable manner? Has your understanding of love changed since?
My first research subject is always myself. I think that if one tries to be as honest with oneself as one can be, one will be simultaneously able to understand many other people too, given how universal human nature is at the emotional level. My understanding of love has changed, I would say that I still have very high expectations of relationships, but I’m more aware of the work and the tools that are needed in order to deliver on those expectations.
Is there any such thing as true love or are we just conditioned by society and its films and fairytales to be yearning ‘true’ love?
Love is definitely amenable to social conditioning; the way we love is highly influenced by what we think of as ‘normal’. It’s true that in our present day, we have some highly unhelpful images of love in circulation, images that don’t help us to normalise our difficulties, and that often leave us feeling that our lives have gone wrong in very unusual and terrible ways. The ideal love stories we need would therefore show us the legitimacy of difficulty, and give us courage to face these hurdles.
The narrative technique is very interesting. While the protagonist couple is under a scanner, readers get to understand their state of mind, insecurities and also get philosophical nuggets from you.
I tried to write a novel that would combine action with reflection. So every few paragraphs, the action stops, and we hear some commentary on the characters. My novel is not for people who want thrilling action; it’s for people who love to pause and analyse relationships very closely. That’s almost my favourite occupation!
In the times of instant-coffee and ‘swipe for relationship’ era, what is it that people lack to a successful course of love? Is marriage still popular?
What we are really lacking is a sense that love is ultimately a skill, not just an enthusiasm... a skill that has to be learnt and patiently practised. We should award medals to those who have learnt the art , and admire them no less than we admire great athletes. Marriage will always be popular because it promises us an end to emotional turbulence.
What can a couple to do stay relevant to each other when married?
Realise that marriage is not ownership, that the possibility of divorce is real, and that one doesn’t ‘own’ the other person. Furthermore, it can be useful to remember that the other person is deeply vulnerable, has surrendered themselves to us, and that we have a big responsibility to them, and they to us.
The universal problem faced by men, especially Indian men who stay with parents even after marriage, is of striking a balance between mother and wife. What’s your tip to men who get caught in the wife and her mother-in-law problems?
True maturity is to leave neither wife nor mother feeling abandoned. There is some responsibility on wives and mothers to cooperate in this project too.
My next book will be about emotional education; another year and I will be done.
Title: The Course of Love
Author: Alain de Botton
Price: Rs 599