A serious attempt to explain the mystery of love by examining it and analyzing it from a variety of angles.
British novelist and cultural commentator Appignanesi (Mad, Bad, and Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors, 2008, etc.) narrows her vast subject by concentrating on the Western world. Her sources include her own experiences with partners, friends and children; both personal observations and structured interviews; and extensive reading of psychoanalytic thinkers as well as novelists, poets and playwrights. Freud, Balzac and Shakespeare rub shoulders with Virginia Woolf, Alice Munro and John Updike. Appignanesi follows what she calls a life history of love, beginning with falling in love, wooing, the pains and passions of young love and marriage. Here she examines the different shapes that marriage has taken from the strictures of ancient times to the restless unions of the present day, a topic that leads naturally enough to adultery. After considering the eternal triangle of love, she next considers love within the family: the child’s demands for mother-love, the altered relations of wife and husband, the dynamics of the father-son relationship and the complicated feelings of siblings. Finally, the author moves on to love in the larger world—e.g., friendships, a subject which comparatively cursory treatment. Throughout, Appignanesi draws most heavily on literary sources for her examples, providing plot outlines of novels and plays and analyzing character motives and behavior. While her personal recollections are entertaining, the summaries of structured interviews with real people seem flat by comparison with the portraits of fictional characters. However, the author convincingly demonstrates the importance of love in our lives, and she raises disquieting questions about how love is experienced today.
An amiable synthesis of a wealth of material, but in the end the nature of love remains elusive.