A Love Story That Touches the Heart and Mind

Novelist Madeleine Henry on the staying power of a great love

| 21 Feb 2021 | 10:38

The winter of a pandemic is a very fitting time to curl up with a novel that warms the heart and reminds us that the most important thing in life is love. Madeleine Henry’s “The Love Proof” does just that by speaking to the value and power of a great love, one that can transcend time and space and prove that although we cannot always be with the ones we love, they are still with us.

This heartfelt tale centers around Jake, an aspiring investor, and Sophie, a physics prodigy on a quest to study time, who become inseparable after meeting their freshman year at Yale, the university from which Henry herself graduated in 2014. When asked why she chose her alma mater as its setting, she said that it felt like a natural fit. “There is a timelessness to it that I thought lent itself very well to writing about a timeless, permanent connection,” she explained.

The novel tugs at the heartstrings by beautifully illustrating the innocence that comes with young love and how it can change the trajectory of one’s life. Because of this newfound relationship, Sophie’s commitment to her studies starts to shift focus. And as for Jake, who is on track to join a firm in New York, his dedication to building his portfolio as well as his disappointment in his girlfriend’s lack of academic attention, begins to push them apart. The book then jumps forward 25 years, revisiting Jake and Sophie in adulthood, and exploring the enduring connection they share.

When crafting her novels, Henry takes from her own life experiences, adding a cerebral layer to her work. Like her protagonist, she has an affinity for science, and the knowledge she has collected is skillfully sprinkled throughout its pages. This book is also inspired by her past career in finance, which she left in order to pursue her dream of becoming a full-time author. The Westchester native-turned West Village resident is currently writing her third novel, about a family of French chefs, and is celebrating her own real-life love story by getting married this coming fall.

How did you come to the decision to make a career in writing?

I’ve always wanted to be an author. When I was in college, at the start of senior fall, I emailed the head of the English department at Yale and suggested, if possible, I write a novel for credit. She said, “Yes,” which was not something that had been done before. So it was a new course; I met one-on-one with a professor once a week for two hours. I wrote fifty to a hundred pages each time, and at the end of fall semester, I had a novel. And I submitted it to agents everywhere, never heard back. So I did the same thing spring semester — submitted my second novel to agents everywhere, didn’t hear back — so then I go into finance and continue to write. So I start what is my third novel and what becomes my first published novel. Because that time, when I submitted it to agents, it was just such a commercial idea, so people responded immediately to it.

You’ve always had an interest in reading books about science, so you include a lot of scientific facts.

I drew on concepts that I was already familiar with through my own reading. And those led me to other ideas, but really I started with the body of knowledge that I already had on my own. I was always just fascinated with outer space and space and time, so it was really an extension of a natural, existing interest.

One of its major themes is the staying power of first love. Did you base that on personal experience?

No, and what’s interesting is that people have come back to me and referred to it as a story about first love, but to me, it was always about great love. And yes, they happen to be each other’s first love, but even if they met later in life, this would be their one true love.

Did you do any research about first love like Jake does?

I did; I poked around. More than I did research, it was just listening to anecdotes. And there is this common theme that people keep connections to people through time and they might not be in their lives anymore, but they have strong connections. So that was an idea that stuck with me.

I think it’s so cool that you created playlists on your website to accompany the book. Why do you think music is so important as a soundtrack to a love story?

Well, I think that music is very transportive. And it’s a way to connect to another time while you’re in one place. And the core idea of this book is connecting with a person who is not with you and it’s connecting to a time in your life that is not happening now. And I think music lends itself to that because that’s exactly what it does to the listener, it takes them somewhere else.

If this was adapted into a movie, who would you want to play Jake and Sophie?

Great question. For Sophie, I definitely know my answers. I think Dakota Fanning would make an amazing Sophie because Sophie is described as a little bit ethereal and straddling reality and a dream, and I think that Dakota Fanning has this otherworldly look to her. She’s also very blonde and very youthful in her appearance, just like Sophie. And she was in “Twilight,” so she has that supernatural association, which I think is really interesting for a genius. And then the older version of Sophie, I think Meryl Streep would be amazing, just because she has that legacy that Sophie eventually does, so I think that that’s really interesting. And then for the younger Jake, I would want Dylan O’Brien, who was the protagonist in “The Maze Runner” movies, because he’s very driven, he has that sharp jawline and he was very serious in that role.

What’s it like to promote a book during a pandemic?

I, personally, am very grateful for the opportunity to Zoom with people across the country. It’s easy for me to schedule multiple events in a day, to do events in multiple states in a week. It’s really expanded the possibilities for me to reach people.

I joined your virtual event with Magic City Books in Tulsa, which was so great. During the discussion, you said you never left a bad review for a book. Tell us why that is.

Because I pour so much of my heart and soul into everything I do, I just assume that other writers are doing the same. And I would never do a disservice to their work and that much emotion in a single thing.

The next book you’re writing is about a family of French chefs. My dad is actually a French chef and owns a restaurant in Manhattan. What was your research for that novel like?

I’ll have to go there! It was amazing. I interviewed Markus Glocker of Bâtard and also spoke to chefs at Gabriel Kreuther and had dinner in the kitchen at The Modern, so I was able to see the kitchen in full force. It was just a fascinating window. I also spoke to a chef who used to work at Magnolia Bakery. Those all informed this portrait of life in the kitchen. And I’m really excited to be working on that now and to share it eventually.

To learn more about Madeleine and her work, visit www.ItsMadeleineHenry.com