In Conversation

A story about permanent love, set at Yale

Novelist Madeleine Henry ’14 discusses her undergraduate experience at Yale, the inspiration for her new book “The Love Proof,” and advice for young writers.
Madeleine Henry

Madeleine Henry

Madeleine Henry ’14 wrote two novels while she was an undergraduate at Yale, neither of which were ever published. But her persistence in bringing her narrative voice to the world eventually paid off.

The Yale alumna has since published two books: “Breathe In, Cash Out” (2019), about an investment banker who wants to be a yogi, and the newly released “The Love Proof” (Atria Books), a love story set almost entirely on the Yale campus. The novel, cited Feb. 9 in the “New & Noteworthy” book review section of The New York Times, is about the enduring connection between two undergraduates. When they meet, one is intent on a career in business and the other a brilliant physicist. Their story spans decades and unlocks mysteries about time itself.

After her own graduation from Yale, where she studied psychology, Henry went on to work in finance in New York City. But within a few years she decided to devote herself full-time to writing novels, which, she said, felt more like her true calling. She recently spoke with YaleNews about her new book, how it was influenced by her time at Yale, and her own enduring passion for writing.

This conversation has been edited and condensed.

What inspired “The Love Proof”?

It is somewhat influenced by my own experience. I drew from my own experiences at Yale for the setting and the sense of atmosphere. And I really unpacked a few ideas and questions that had been important to me in my own life. One of those is the balance between achievement and relationships. This is something that the character Sophie Jones, a physics prodigy, grapples with. She is one of the most gifted people ever to walk this earth, not only in her computational abilities but in her curiosity and her depth of heart. She falls in love during her freshman year and it radically changes what she thinks is important. She has to decide where to use her gift. I had a similar experience and wanted to explore that in literature.

There is a lot of physics in the book. Were you also interested in science at Yale?

I took some introductory-level science. I was always more interested in the concepts of math and physics than I was in the numerical problem-solving aspect of it. There is a book that came out recently called “Math Without Numbers,” which talks about how math is really about concepts, not just quantitative problem solving. Math explores concepts like infinity and so on, and those concepts do interest me.

I didn’t intend for “The Love Proof” to be such a scientific book. I really intended for it to be an emotional book. Everything you learn about the universe and space and time — that’s really just to prove what is really an emotional point, which is how much Sophie and Jack love each other. So there is lot to be learned in the book, but love was always my priority.

Why did you choose Yale as your setting?

On a personal level, Yale is one of my homes. I really grew up there. I have a lot of affection for the school. Beyond that fondness, Yale seemed like the perfect setting for a story about permanent love because Yale is a landmark, a place that is classic and enduring and itself has permanence.

Are there any love stories you’ve read that have left a mark on you?

I love “The Alchemist” [by Paulo Coelho] which isn’t exactly a love story but is a simple and relatively short classic about a man following his personal legend. It is one of the top 10 bestselling books of all time, and it left a big impression on me. I’m intrigued by something being so simple but so universally appreciated. “The Bridges of Madison County” [by Robert James Waller] is another classic bestseller, about a couple who are not together every day, but their story is extremely powerful.

Do you think romantic love can be eternal?

I really do. There is uncertainty in all the great questions of life, but you are given a choice of what you believe. I choose to believe love is eternal. I don’t think anyone who says love is not eternal has any more information than anyone else.

The book has received a lot of attention. Does it make you nervous when reviews of your book come out?

I love writing. If I can write, I am a happy person. If people don’t appreciate my books, so what? I can keep on writing. I care about reviews in the sense that I can sometimes learn from feedback. Beyond that, all that matters is that I can still write. That may sound a little aspirational, but it’s what I strive for.

What advice would you give young writers at Yale?

I would advise two things. One is to be persistent. “Breathe In, Cash Out” was the third book I submitted for publication. “The Love Proof” is my fourth. And I feel I’ve finally found my stride. That comes after 10 years of persistence. We are fed stories of overnight success, but in my life, achievement has come with a lot of persistence and effort.

Consistency is the other side of that coin. I don’t believe in flashes of inspiration and intensity. I try to do some humdrum work every day, hoping for gains over a long time.

What are you writing now?

My next book is about a family of chefs in New York City. The soundbite I give for it is that it’s about “when great food meets true nourishment.” That’s as much as I’ll say about it for now!

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