Happy February. Today’s post is part two of Penguin’s Read The Year Challenge. The focus for February is: Get stuck into a story of obsessive love. Whilst researching different love stories, I stumbled across this. I’d never heard of the author before or the novel. Yet, I was intrigued by the fact that Botton’s work is regarded as ‘philosophy of everyday life.’ This clearly was going to be quite a real story; one that would evoke many emotions in me. I wasn’t wrong.
What’s it all about?
The novel follows the relationship of Rabih and Kirsten during their every day lives. The book is structured into 5 sections, each representing a stage in their relationship. Our eyes are opened to the philosophical teachings in italic, blurring emotion and rational thought. It appears to offer explanations to the behaviours displayed. As the novel starts we meet Rabih. He sees Kirsten and knows that she is the one.
“He has never felt anything remotely like this before. The sensation overwhelms him from the first. It isn’t dependent on words – which they will never exchange. It is as if he has in some way always known her, as if she holds out an answer to his very existence…”
However, this novel isn’t meant to be a fairy tale. They meet, fall in love and then real life begins. As a reader, we are with them every step of the way. Real life defines and shapes their relationship. Part one: Romanticism. This first stage of the novel shows their dates and the proposal of marriage. This initial stage of the relationship brings great excitement and wonder.
“He asks her to marry him because it feels like an extremely dangerous thing to do: if the marriage should fail, it would ruin both their lives.”
The second stage of the novel is Ever After. It is here where we would be likely to assume the end. We are all used to that cliche ‘and they all lived happily ever after’. But what happens after that? Well, we see an argument about glasses in IKEA, the proper way of how to tell a story and the matter of punctuality. Little strifes from every day life. Rabih and Kirsten have them all which means we all do.
“We should add that it is a privilege to be the recipient of a sulk: it means the other person respects and trusts us enough to think we should understand their unspoken hurt.”
Along with squabbles, the novel explores the unpredictability of the world of work and the impact this has on relationships. Rabih experiences stresses at work with pay freezes and job changes. Also, anniversary trips abroad don’t go quite right with a misplaced phone. Each draw to the same conclusion: placing blame at one another and criticism. It is what they learn that matters.
“He isn’t angry with her; he is panicked and battered by events. To be a better husband, he recognizes, he will have to learn to place a little less of the wrong, destructive sort of hope in the woman who loves him.”
Children comes next and this in itself brings massive changes to the relationship between Rabih and Kirsten. The time they have together is diminishing, priorities change and the focus becomes the child/ren (Esther and William in the case of Rabih and Kirsten.) They teach their children to be kind, always. Yet, this too causes conflict. How far is too far?
“The relationship nevertheless makes Kirsten worry a little for her daughter’s future. She wonders how other men will be able to measure up to such standards of tenderness and focused attention…”
The next part was a slightly uncomfortable part: adultery. It’s not the cheating that bothers me so much, it’s the fact that Rabih never tells her. To me this feels like a betrayal. I appreciate that he wanted to keep the peace, to not cause massive upset, which he knew it would. He appreciated the sense of closeness and needing to be wanted. Personally, I wasn’t completely convinced by this section. Possibly too much theory and not enough reality?
“Marriage: a deeply peculiar and ultimately unkind thing to inflict on anyone one claims to care for.”
The final part of the novel was Beyond Romanticism. It is here we see ‘real life’ as it were. With the help of a therapist, they’ve learnt the lessons of previous mistakes and can see the errors of their ways. The relationship seems healthier and more realistic. 16 years into their relationship they seem ready for marriage. This may seem like a bizarre concept but it is my interpretation that it is part of the learning process.
“We are ready for marriage when we accept that in a number of significant areas our partner will be wiser, more reasonable and more mature than we are. We should want to learn from them.”
This book is well written and filled with real life experiences that we can all relate to at some point or another. Whether it is my age or the fact that I’m not married or have children, there’s some parts that just feel like theory.
Penguin’s theme was obsessive love and I do believe this is shown. We obsess about being the best possible partner, we want the same in return. We love deeply and passionately. Every single one of us makes mistakes and causes hurt without meaning to.
I’m pleased I’ve read this book. I’ve never really read anything like this before so it was an eye opener. I know that one day the teachings will help me in any relationships I’m in. Basically, love really is an amazing, terrifying thing.
Big love all. Xx