Francine Prose in The Guardian:
Late in Alain de Botton’s engaging novel, a married couple, Rabih and Kirsten, find that the demands and stresses of ordinary life – work, domestic chores, financial worries, the harrowing expenditure of energy required to raise their two adored children – have made them irritable and contentious. In part, the narrator concludes, they are at odds “because they have so seldom seen their struggles sympathetically reflected in the art they know … Were Rabih and Kirsten able to read about themselves as characters in a novel, they might … experience a brief but helpful burst of pity at their not at all unworthy plight, and thereby perhaps learn to dissolve some of the tension that arises on those evenings when, once the children are in bed, the apparently demoralising and yet in truth deeply grand and significant topic of ironing comes up.”
Presumably, the novel that Rabih and Kirsten need to read is the one De Botton has written: a sympathetic account of the relationship that begins only after the besotted courtship has ended. Having fallen deeply in love, the couple “will marry, they will suffer, they will frequently worry about money, they will have a girl first, then a boy, one of them will have an affair, there will be passages of boredom, they’ll sometimes want to murder one another and on a few occasions to kill themselves. This will be the real love story.”
Rabih and Kirsten are well-drawn, individualised characters, with distinct and separate backgrounds (he’s half-Lebanese, half-German; she’s Scottish), careers (he’s an architect working in an urban design studio; she’s a surveyor employed by Edinburgh City Council) and personalities (she’s confident and feisty; he’s dreamy and insecure). But what’s interesting is De Botton’s decision to make their experience so thoroughly ordinary that their lives seem emblematic, their stories interchangeable with those of countless couples.