Move over Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda. Erica, Suzanne and Christina just might take your place (they definitely will in Canada). Friends since the second year of university, Erica, Suzanne and Christina are now working women living in Ottawa. Erica is single and searching; Suzanne, married but troubled; and Christina too comfortably settled in the suburbs with the requisite two kids. With hip bistros, treks to the racetrack, art events, playful parties and Erica’s freelance coverage of the city’s music scene, Ottawa seems the perfect backdrop for this hip, modern tale of successful young professionals searching for professional and personal fulfillment.
Author Barbara Sibbald does a superb job of quickly conveying the personalities of each woman, their interactions with men and with each other, and the inevitable ebb and flow that seems to be the reality of both marriages and long-term female friendships. The supporting cast, mostly men, are depicted convincingly as well.
Early on in The Book of Love Erica (waiting for the others to return from the restroom), discovers a forgotten manuscript: a self-help book called “Guidance in Affairs of the Heart.” It appears to have been written by a Dr. Jean Foster, with a copyright date five years in the future. Annoying Christina, Erica decides to keep the draft once she sees that there is a chapter on finding the perfect mate.
As the story develops, the self-help book is passed from friend to friend; even Christina grudgingly admits it is useful. A school art teacher struggling to be an involved mom, she longs to have a true studio and time for her own art—especially once Suzanne becomes preoccupied with producing a film about a former friend of hers who has become a sensation in the art world.
“Guidance in Affairs of the Heart” proves quite clever and spot-on concerning the various stages of male-female relationships. When Erica’s current man states his love too soon, she flips to the section on “Premature Articulation.” Christina’s eyes are drawn to “better sex than sorry.” Suzanne spies this section: “Dates become auditions, second dates, the call back. We miss out on the best part: the uncertainty, the flirting, the unexpected playfulness, and fun of romantic love.”
Readers though, should not take this to mean that the advice segments supersede the story. Ultimately Sibbald, a Canadian award-winning journalist and novelist, presents a trio of friends that we’d all like to keep.