Alain de Botton was born in 1969. He is the author of the novels On Love, The Romantic Movement, and Kiss and Tell; his work has been translated into sixteen languages. He lives in Washington, D.C., and London.
Here's an antidote for readers paralyzed by the anxiety of influence. Novelist and literary biographer de Botton (Kiss & Tell, Picador, 1996) sets out to exorcise the influence of Marcel Proust, using the words of the great French author of In Search of Lost Time most engagingly for and against him. In the process, de Botton fashions a hilarious work of authorial self-help. Like Julian Barnes in his Flaubert's Parrot, de Botton knows his author intimately, from what newspaper snippets he would have read each morning to what he and James Joyce said to each other the one time they met ("Non."). In pithy sections, spliced with kitschy photos and plenty of white space, he takes on Proust's personal and writerly idiosyncrasies: the length of his sentences; his loving devotion to minutiae; his elevation of the quotidian; his hypochondria. De Botton might not make us better people (he quotes the perennially miserable Proust on love in a Q-and-A format: "how to be happy in love"), but he will make us more careful readers. For all literature collections.‘Amy Boaz, "Library Journal"
Generally writers fall into one of two camps: those who feel that one can't write without having a firm grasp on Proust, and those who, like Virginia Woolf, are crippled by his influence. De Botton, the author of On Love, The Romantic Movement and Kiss and Tell, obviously falls into the former category. But rather than an endless exegesis on memory, de Botton has chosen to weave Proust's life, work, friends and era into a gently irreverent, tongue-in-cheek self-help book. For example, in the chapter titled "How to Suffer Successfully," de Botton lists poor Proust's many difficulties (asthma, "awkward desires," sensitive skin, a Jewish mother, fear of mice), which is essentially a funny way of telling the reader quite a lot about the man's life. Next he moves on to Proust's little thesis that because we only really think when distressed, we shouldn't worry about striving for happiness so much as "pursuing ways to be properly and productively unhappy." De Botton then cheerily judges various characters of A la recherché against their author's maxims. At the beginning, when de Botton drags his own girlfriend into a tortuous and not terribly successful digression, readers may be skeptical, but they will be won over by his whimsical relation of Proust's lessons‘essentially an exhortation to slow down, pay attention and learn from life. Is it profound? No. Does this add something new to Proust scholarship? Probably not. But it's a real pleasure to read someone who treats this sacrosanct subject as something that is still vital and vigorous. 25,000 first printing; author tour.(May)