Bron, a London writer rapidly approaching thirty, is commitment-phobic and on the verge of what he hopes will be a successful career with a contract for a book about love at first sight. Bron throws himself into this task with a vengeance, his premise based primarily on the life and love of artist Paul Marotte.
Ready to plunge into the world of a salaried writer, Bron, who has despaired of ever experiencing his topic first hand, moves to a cottage on the estate of his friend, where (viola!) he meets the beautiful and mysterious Flora. Given his raging passion for this potential experience, Bron casts aside the task at hand without much thought, following Flora to Amsterdam, where he languishes in the confusion and angst of his own "love at first sight.
He is embarked on the chase of his life pursuing Flora, who is not only married but cynical, believing all men who desire her are only after one thing. She isn't sure how to assess Bron, who enjoys more success with her by posing theories on the nature of love than bringing his affections to fruition. Captivated by vivid imaginings of the raptures of true love, he is forced to question his own presumptions of romance and fidelity.
It is difficult to have sympathy for Flora, burdened with her beauty, resenting the covert stares of men. Flora's response to all and sundry is petulant, much like such women who agonize over their burden, begging "don't hate me because I'm beautiful. Bron is so consumed with the ideal of Flora that he fails to analyze the attraction beyond her physical beauty and obdurate resistance, but eventually the young man is stimulated in his writing endeavors in this strange, passionate dance.
Bron meets Freddy Christensen in Amsterdam, an art collector who enjoys discussing the Nazi Occupation's usurpation of Jewish art collections during the war; the Germans saved the paintings, while exterminating their owners. Freddy gleefully attacks Bron's theories of true love, asking Is it possible that what a man wants to give is not what a woman wants to receive?"
Bron believes that love can indeed be given, while Freddy suggests it can only be taken. The quandary for the writer-in-transition is in determining the right approach to Flora, but much of his enchantment is predicated on fantasy. The formerly commitment-phobe is in new territory, unsure and dangerously romantic.
This romantic novel is woven around the fictitious painter Paul Marotte and Bron's own amorous adventures; Nicholson uses fragments of letters from the artist to his beloved, a governess. He also mines literature for sentiments from like-mined poets and authors, all building a case for love at first sight. After all the hyperbole, Bron must test his assumptions in real life, as the elusive Flora leads Bron on a lively chase, as well as her Marotte-collecting friend, Freddy Christensen. Bron's lesson in love and self-deception is the most difficult of all, yet ultimately the most rewarding and long-lasting.