A sometimes diverting, sometimes loquacious and cutesy second novel from de Botton (On Love (1993), who once again combines a twentysomething off-again-on-again relationship with various sorts of mock-serious disquisitions on love and other topics. Alice, our heroine, is a ""dreamer"" who ""admired the great love stories with their enviable sense of necessity and inevitability."" Despite this love ache, she's also incurably modern in her taste for irony and variety. After a long conversation with her sister Jane about reality, in a narrative replete with a ""Table of Reality"" that graphs the ingredients various thinkers have added to the reality recipe, she meets Eric, who ""turned out to be a most skilled lover,"" and the die is cast for de Botton: a mixture of overeducated mind-games played by a couple caught in the throes of romantic love; witty, sophomoric asides on almost every topic under the sun; and various kinds of graphs, pictograms, charts, and line drawings. For a while, Alice and Eric ""understood one another intuitively,"" despite Alice's addiction to shopping. In fact, the romance is such a committed one that the lovebirds date for more than five months before trouble rears its ironic little head. Soon enough, the two are musing about the tragedy of ""outgrowing someone,"" and Alice is playing new games with Philip, the next possible someone in her life, though not letting Eric get away entirely. A mostly amusing bit of levity: a cross between Milan Kundera and Erich Segal, with some Vonnegut thrown in for spice. If de Botton's little drawings are often vapid, he's still a promising writer who entertains glibly more than he falls flat.