Kiss and Tell

Alain de Botton, Author Picador USA $22 (0p) ISBN 978-0-312-14282-7
""Dental work on,"" ""first kiss"" and ""new hairstyle"" can all be found under the index entries for Isabel Rogers, the charming, unsuspecting subject of this diverting fictional biography. De Botton plays a nimble game, through the eyes and idiosyncrasies of his smart, pretentious narrator. Looking for an opportunity to explore the nature of biography without being overshadowed by his subject, the narrator attaches himself to a woman he thinks will be mundane enough to be fully mastered. To play off the appealing if thoroughly normal Isabel, de Botton (The Romantic Movement) makes his narrator as fastidious as any of Nicholson Baker's and as smarmily self-absorbed as one of Martin Amis's. But the ordinary details of Isabel's ordinary life--she is 28, a production assistant in London--prove more than enough to handle, and the narrator, who likes to quote Dr. Johnson and Richard Ellman, finds that the high-brow rigors of formal biography have to make concessions to the unruliness of lived life. Inevitably in this comic relationship, the narrator digresses too often, experimenting with handwriting analysis, palmistry and psychiatric questionnaires before he realizes that he is missing a very different kind of understanding of Isabel. Deftly, de Botton manages to flesh out the character of Isabel within the parameters of what is--in every sense--his narrator's pseudo-intellectual conceit. In the manner of Carol Shield's The Stone Diaries, photos of ""Isabel'' and her family add a droll touch. (June)
Reviewed on: 06/03/1996
Release date: 06/01/1996
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