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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Kiss & Tell

Alain de Botton

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To purchase Kiss & Tell

Title: Kiss & Tell
Author: Alain de Botton
Genre: Novel
Written: 1995
Length: 246 pages
Availability: Kiss & Tell - US
Kiss & Tell - UK
Kiss & Tell - Canada
Portrait d'une jeune fille anglaise - France
Isabel und ihr Biograph - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

B : clever idea, fairly well done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. B- 4/8/1996 Elizabeth Gaffney
The Spectator . 9/9/1995 Philip Glazebrook
TLS C 15/9/1995 Andrea Ashworth
The Washington Post . 12/6/1996 Jonathan Yardley

  From the Reviews:
  • "Mr. de Botton has tried to do too many things. Despite its charmingly clipped British prose, its wit and its wise words, Kiss & Tell is neither fish nor fowl -- not fully satisfying as a novel or as a mock biography." - Elizabeth Gaffney, The New York Times Book Review

  • "While de Botton's earlier novels evinced a quirky forte for distilling philosophy out of waiting by the phone, his latest lacks the knack of glueing gratifyingly general truths to intimate particulars. Beneath his professional infatuation with Isabel and her literal and psychological make-up, this philosophical sleuth seems less an obsessive lover than an opportunistic scribbler." - Andrea Ashworth, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Kiss & Tell is a biographical fiction, a novel disguised as biography or a biography disguised as novel. De Botton's greatest leap is in choosing as the subject for this imagined work "the next person to walk into my life," i.e. an ordinary soul of (in all likelihood) no particular distinction. The idea is that there is something extraordinary in all life stories, and de Botton sets out to explores this notion.
       The soul and subject turns out to be Isabel Jane Rogers, born 1968, a nice enough young woman, as similar or as different as any of her generation. The narrator and Isabel begin a relationship. The narrator writes Isabel's biography -- a means of understanding her, of getting close to her, of feeling empathy. It is an interesting, if not wholly convincing exercise. But certainly in lesser hands it would be a great deal more annoying.
       De Botton writes quite well, and, as usual, there is a fair amount of wit to lighten and liven up the pages. Isabel is almost too unremarkable (as she perhaps must be for de Botton to make his point), the story too forced around its artificial frame, but there is a fair amount of entertainment value.
       There are the usual graphs, charts, tables, and maps that de Botton likes to use to diagram and explicate his points. An added realistic touch are the photographs -- of Isabel, family, friends, pets, even a "breakfast 'post-coital somewhere'". And Kiss & Tell is one of those rare novels with an index, facilitating the quick finding of those clever references to, among others, Wittgenstein, Proust, "whole hog, going", and "chocolate raisins". (Note that we heartily approve of the 'novel with an index' and suggest that it should be a much more common feature in works of fiction.)
       It certainly looks like a biography, though admittedly one with de Botton's familiar curious spin and philosophical and literary asides. The narrator tries to learn everything he can about Isabel. Unsurprisingly, he finds at the end that he still does not know her. Even less surprisingly she finally thinks they should probably go their separate ways. (De Botton seems to favour the fundamentally mismatched in his fictional pairings.)
       Kiss & Tell is a fun ride for much of the way. The writing is painless and there are sufficient moments of amusement (and a few insights). It is also clever. Unfortunately it also reads very much like a writing exercise. Which is, in effect, what it is (and admittedly the book is never presented as anything else). As such it is not entirely successful.
       Entertaining but not enthralling. An interesting read, but not much more.

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Kiss & Tell: Reviews: Alain de Botton: Other books by Alain de Botton under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction at the complete review

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About the Author:

       English author Alain de Botton was born in Switzerland in 1969 and educated at Cambridge.

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