The Forty Rules of Love is the follow-up novel to Turkish author Elif Shafak's 2007 novel, The Bastard of Istanbul. Ella Rubinstein is forty years old, the mother of three, and she is stuck in a rut. She remains married to her husband, David, and stays in the marriage although she suspects her husband of cheating on her numerous times. Her life is one of ease and financial security, but it lacks passion. Determined to re-enter the work force after taking a break to raise her children, Ella takes a job as a reader for a literary agent. The first book that she is given to read and summarize is Sweet Blasphemy, a novel that tells the story of how the great poet Rumi met Shams of Tabriz, the man who changed Rumi's path in life forever. As Ella reads this novel she begins an intimate correspondence with Aziz Zahara, the author of the novel, because she has found something in Aziz's words that is desperately missing from her own life.
Shafak has chosen to write the book using parallel narratives, a daring choice that pays off in her case. One narrative is that of Ella, and we join her as she experiences discontent in her own life, highlighted as she reads the story that the literary agency has assigned to her. The other narrative tells the story of Shams of Tabriz, the whirling dervish who enters the great Rumi's life and impacts it greatly. Although this potentially could have been confusing, it is not, as Shafak writes with such grace that we are clear on whose story she is telling, and how that story relates to the other one.
Despite the fact that I did not always agree with the choices that Ella made in her personal life, I could clearly understand the author's intended message: sometime's following one's passions does not make the most logical sense, yet doing so brings the greatest benefits. This was a thought-provoking book, one that brought many interesting questions to light.
Thank-you to Penguin Canada's Exclusive Reads Program for sending me advanced reading copy!
Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5
Recommended to: Those who enjoy reading about Middle Eastern culture as well as those who have enjoyed Elif Shafak's previous novels
Challenges: 2010 100+ Reading Challenge, New Author Challenge 2010