The Forty Rules of Love is a multi-faceted novel weaving together the tale of the famed 13th-century poet Rumi; his transformation from a respected scholar into a Sufi poet under the influence of his companion; Shams of Tabriz, and the story of suburban housewife Ella Rubinstein’s path to true love.

The novel’s plot is set in motion when Ella, who has spent the past twenty years as a model homemaker raising three children and patiently tolerating a philandering husband, takes on a job as a reader for a literary agency. Her first assignment is to read Sweet Blasphemy, a novel by unknown author Aziz Z. Zahara.

As Ella struggles with growing dissatisfaction with her home life, Zahara’s novel opens up a new world where love takes centre stage in the search for the truth and oneness with God. Intrigued, Ella locates Zahara’s blog and begins corresponding with him, an exchange that grows into an unexpected love.

Chapters written from Ella’s perspective are interspersed with chapters from Sweet Blasphemy, which are told from the perspective of Rumi, Shams of Tabriz and various other characters. When Shams of Tabriz arrives in Konya to meet Rumi, the man destined to be his spiritual and intellectual companion; his unorthodox ways cause a scandal in the town and tension within Rumi’s family, with dire consequences.

Different situations throughout the book prompt Shams and other characters to speak of one of the ’rules‘– the forty rules of love. These pearls of wisdom, dotted throughout the text, describe the Sufi philosophy created by Shams and passed onto Rumi and into the future to, finally; Ella.

The Forty Rules of Love is a unique look at Sufism and the life of Rumi, offering casual readers with little knowledge of these subjects a comprehensible and interesting look into life in 13th-century Anatolia. The chapters set in this period are undoubtedly the novel’s strong suit, whereas the chapters written from Ella’s perspective threaten to overwhelm and disenchant the reader.

The storyline of Ella and Aziz could be viewed as unrealistic and a little forced; stilted dialogue, uncharacteristic happenings, and a predictably tragic ending make for an underwhelming story that detracts from the other plotline of the novel. Had Shafak simply chosen to focus on the story of Rumi and Shams, the resulting novel might have been stronger, more cohesive and more believable.

Despite this, The Forty Rules of Love is a thoroughly entertaining and quick read, as well as a work of literature that examines the timeworn theme of love in unexpected ways, with eye-opening results. Readers of all stripes will enjoy this well-crafted tale, and learn something about history and religion in the process.