It’s been a while since a book gripped (bordering on spellbound, almost) me this much. Since I spent entire days curled up in a C, rushing through page after page, hungry to get to the end of a book. It’s been a while since thoughts on love, all kinds of romantic love, have touched, moved and blown me. It’s probably because it’s been so long since a book spoke to me so articulately. So clearly that a swift punch to the gut, followed by a large heavy lump in my throat developed only too often, with disturbing frequency right through this read.
I devoured Essays in Love by Alain de Botton over a rainy weekend. The best kind of weekend, for reading a book like this I think. Forced to stay indoors, with nothing to interrupt your flow except multiple cups of hot drinks brought to you by your significant other, if you’re lucky. Perfect because it’s been so long since a book absorbed me like this one did. And I don’t mean in a way that is gripping because it is entertaining, but gripping because the story literally speaks to you. The words unfurl to tell a tale that is frighteningly familiar. So familiar, it brought back flashes of memories from my past that are probably still rough around the edges. Rough enough to chafe my smug present bliss, leave me grazed, a little raw and on a couple of occasions even had my eyes well up.
I didn’t think love as a concept could affect me so much. I didn’t think I’d go beyond feeling goosebumps when I read Neruda, or feel mushy in my stomach when I watch a special rom-com, or feeling that happy sense of calm satisfaction when I see friends in love. But Essays in Love went beyond that. It took love out of the realm of that thing that you see, touch, watch on the outside, and put it inside my head, reminded me of every instance that I have felt and experienced every single detail in the course of the story.
The narrative is a straightforward love story, that traces the various phases of love, from what starts as a blind infatuation the author feels for Chloe, which gradually crosses over into familiarity over several dates, to intimacy, over-familiarity and finally that point beyond where relationships self-destruct and then one is left with the immense weight of heart-break. Except Alain de Botton doesn’t just tell a story, he brings love under the philosophical microscope, simple and beautifully analyzes every situation, instance, every emotion and every point in the world’s most common and predictable journey, from a thoughtful and reflective angle.
Love, simple as it is, is viewed through the lens of Fatalism, Marxism, Liberalism, Beauty, Intimacy and everything in between. And if you have been there before, you’ll feel a wide variety of emotions reading about it in this book. Ranging from furious nodding in agreement, to an overwhelming sense of relief that a feeling you didn’t think anyone else would understand is perfectly articulated, to several stiff blows to your gut and finally the calm of reassurance that you are never really alone in your experience. No matter how personal, someone somewhere else has felt the same way, down to every little disturbing last detail. For anyone who has been in a relationship (and I’m pretty sure most of us have) that has traversed this curve, the book will probably hit home.
Every chapter had a couple of lines that took my breath away. There are just too many to list actually.
Far too many excerpts spoke to me, like someone was penning the events of a few years of my life. But the surprising thing was that while I started off relating to the author’s side of the tale, towards the end of the book I found I was more like Chloe in her behaviour and the way she dealt with the end of her relationship. It was the first time I was forced to sit down and actually see what those few months of difficulty with heartbreak might have been for my ex.
After the emotional spin-dry session the book took me though, wringing every possible emotion out of me, the end was a delight. Putting a positive, happy and very realistic spin in a chapter titled “Love Lessons” I found myself smiling again, and wanting to open out a few older chapters to re-read them.
That’s the good thing about the book. Every chapter deals with a phase, a new analysis and even though the narrative follows a sequential progression, it is so loaded with powerful lines and beautiful turn of phrase that it is the kind of book that you can go to every now and then, open a random page, read a few paragraphs, shut it and let the words linger around in your head.
If you’ve been in love, if you’ve loved and lost, if you’ve been hurt in love, if you’ve been lucky with love — read it.
“Perhaps it is true that we do not really exist until there is someone there to see us existing, we cannot properly speak until there is someone there who can understand what we are saying, in essence, we are not wholly alive until we are loved.” — Alain de Botton, Essays in Love