Four girls looking for love in Sydney, go on a few disastrous dates, meet Mr Wrong, and eventually find happiness with their careers and with Mr Right. It sounds like the template for any conventional chick-lit title, but this one is slightly different.
Esma, the main character in this novel by Randa Abdel-Fattah, is 28, lives at home with her parents, works in Human Resources, volunteers at a refugee centre and is Muslim. She wants to be swept off her feet, but insists her future husband must be a fellow Muslim. Together with her friends Nirvana (a Hindu midwife), Ruby (Greek Orthodox lawyer) and Lisa(Jewish social worker), she forms a No Sex in the City club.
By taking sex off the menu (unless you’re married), you are left to concentrate on the story, the interpersonal relationships between the girls, Esma’s family and extended community network who are constantly setting her up, and her trials at work with a boss who has no personal boundaries. And it is a good story!
This is Randa Abdel-Fattah’s first adult novel, after a series of novels aimed at young adults. While she has insisted in the afterword it is not autobiographical, she has drawn upon the personal stories of close friends, which gives the story a strong sense of reality.
Coming from a strict Irish Catholic family, I can relate to the emphasis on no sex until you’re married. Unlike Esma, I didn’t last the distance, so to speak… Esma is able to articulate her belief incredibly well when out for post-work drinks with work colleagues. This was probably the only time the book sounds a little preachy, but given the context, it was appropriate.
Randa Abdel-Fattah is a great story-teller and a wonderful voice for contemporary Australian women.