Splashy pink cover and risque title hides Alain de Botton’s ingenious biography of an unknown woman. De Botton weaves philosophy, fiction, and humor while questioning the nature of biography. Why is it we are most interested in hearing the dreary dull mundane facts about famous people? Because ultimately, we are all searching for clues to our own identities.
Alain begins the work by admitting his last girlfriend accused him of being unable to empathize, which sets him on the task of biographer, intrigued by “the idea of understanding a human being as fully as one person could hope to understand another.” He decides to chronicle the life of the next stranger who enters his life, twenty-something Isabel, who also evolves into his girlfriend.
He questions the best way to biographize– a mere linear progression or how it streams from the subject’s mouth willy nilly? He wonders which bits of trivia to include or exclude– favorite foods, music, pathways around London.
What is it we reveal of ourselves with our choice of lover? In so far as we desire what we do not ourselves possess, our loves trace the evolution of our needs… But lovers are not chosen according to a perfect match between emotional void and amorous candidate – and in this sense are a complicated guide to our inner needs. We may be forced to identify our lovers from a cripplingly small pool of choices. In trying to explain the more inexplicable love stories, one may have to answer the question, ‘Why them?’ with the gloomy thought, ‘Did you see the others?’
This one got the raised eyebrow when I was getting my hair cut– “oh one of those books,” he said. Subversive covers are my new favorite thing.