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Shelf Awareness

Some places are made for romance. In Margaret Bradham Thornton’s A Theory of Love, one of those places is the fictional enclave of Bermeja on Mexico’s rugged Pacific coast, south of Puerto Vallarta. Rich artists and wealthy global moguls gather there in casitas carefully designed to capture the area’s views and color. On assignment to do a story on Bermeja’s Italian developer, British journalist Helen Gibbs meets the Franco-American lawyer, entrepreneur and occasional surfer Christopher Delavaux. 

Too smart and clever to be overwhelmed by only physical attraction, Helen and Christopher banter about language (his favorite word is the Italian sprezzatura, which he translates as “studied nonchalance”) and the excesses of the well-heeled players around them. When he leaves a respected law firm in New York City to launch his own investment advisory house in London, they reconnect and easily glide into love and marriage. With a little mews house to call home, Helen revels in the excitement of dinners with Christopher’s prospective clients, weekends in the country and interesting reporting assignments. But one cannot live on fancy ceviche and massive English manors alone. 

Thornton (Charleston) studied at Princeton and Cambridge, spent a decade organizing and editing Tennessee Williams’s Notebooks and even worked on Wall Street. Her knowledge of European affluence–its food, fashion, and August idylls amid the yachts and cafes of Saint-Tropez–permeates every chapter. As Christopher focuses on building his business, Helen chafes and wonders when they will have leisure time again. He tells her “I have people working for me who are depending on me…. Once you’re in the river, you’re in the river. You can’t get out and take a break.” 

Thornton’s Wall Street years serve A Theory of Love well. She captures the details of cross-border deals, all-nighter due diligence, tax straddles and currency swaps as astutely as she does Helen’s growing disenchantment with Christopher’s new client crowd whose yacht names remind her of “racehorses on fourth-rate tracks–Lucky Lady, Lovely Lassie, Pretty Woman.” Helen wants a child. She wants “grittier” writing assignments. She wants a husband less “studied” and more “nonchalant.” After a pregnancy and miscarriage, which she keeps from Christopher, she finally lashes out: “I wasn’t expecting to be first all of the time, just once in a while.”

With chapters skipping across both the cosmopolitan and remote turfs of the wealthy, A Theory of Love is a portrait of romance among the 1%. Yet it is pulled back to earth by the self-reflective, unpretentious Helen who centers Thornton’s narrative. She learns that falling in love is easy. Overcoming a spouse’s obsession with work and personal indifference is much harder. Thornton’s novel is a window into life in a breakneck world where finding an anchor to slow things down is as important as launching full-sail into the wind. —Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Shelf Talker: In a modern love story, a spirited British journalist finds both romance and disappointment in her search for happiness amid the whirl and glitz of the global elite.