Edward Docx, . . Houghton Mifflin, $24 (360pp) ISBN 978-0-618-34397-3

It takes sangfroid and skill to write a contemporary love story featuring the metaphysical poetry of John Donne and the art of calligraphy, but British writer Docx, in his debut novel, carries it off with wit and sophistication. His protagonist, Jasper Jackson, is a Londoner whose current job is to transcribe the Songs and Sonnets of John Donne for a wealthy client. Like Donne, Jasper is also a relentless womanizer, a charming cad who lives for love affairs. When the woman of his dreams appears in his own garden, Jasper succumbs to real love for the first time and slowly begins to realize what it feels like to be the pursuer rather than the pursued. In a clever reversal of chick-lit roles, the lovely Madeleine, a travel journalist, plays the part of the rakes of yore, while Jasper pours his woes into the willing ear of his best friend. There are many contrasts here, between ancient art and contemporary manners, between ribald conversation and metaphysical elegance of expression, between the intellectual and the erotic. Docx prefaces each chapter with the sonnet Jasper is working on, and close reading reveals that the subject of each poem corresponds to Jasper's emotional state. Using sites in London, Rome and New York, he allows Jasper to fulminate about the meretricious standards of 21st-century culture (scenes in the Tate Modern are deliciously on target). Readers of conventional romantic comedy may find more to chew on here than they're expecting, but the double surprises that end the narrative are diabolically satisfying. Foreign rights sold in France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, Sweden. (Oct. 14)