Book Review : Beginner's Greek

by - 3/07/2008

Beginner's Greek

Author :
James Collins

Hardcover :
448 pages

Publisher :
Little, Brown and Company

Book Description

When Peter Russell finally meets the woman of his dreams he falls as madly in love as you can on a flight from New York to LA. Her name is Holly. She's achingly pretty with strawberry-blonde hair, and reads Thomas Mann for pleasure. She gives Peter her phone number on a page of The Magic Mountain, but in his room that night Peter finds the page is inexplicably, impossibly, enragingly...gone.

So begins the immensely entertaining story of Peter and his unrequited love for his best friend's girl; of Charlotte and her less-than-perfect marriage to a man in love with someone else; of Jonathan and his wicked and fateful debauchery; and of Holly, the impetus for it all. Along the way, there's the evil boss, the desirable temptress, miscommunications, misrepresentations, fiendish behavior, letters gone astray, and ultimately, an ending in which every character gets his due. Both incisive and wonderfully funny, this is a brilliantly understated comedy of manners in which love lost is found again.


If you like or watch chick flicks, this novel will seem eerily familiar to you. As I began reading it, I was irresistibly reminded of that John Cusack movie ‘Serendipity’. Just as in the movie, the protagonists meet, there’s love at first sight and then they get separated. But they never forget each other. And when they do meet, circumstances are such that they’re both committed to other people. And neither is sure of the other’s feelings, although the readers are made aware that nothing stands between them but their own uncertainties. How it all gets resolved and whether there’s a happy ending constitutes the rest of this convoluted and not-so funny novel.

The author of this novel, former Time editor Collins, has written the novel from Peter’s point of view for the most part. As such we see the other characters mainly through Peter’s eyes. And as Holly remains an enigma for much of the story to Peter, thus she remains one to the readers as well. With his insecurity, overtly romantic outlook, awkward chivalrous behavior, a tendency to pontificate on boring issues at length (a flaw that’s applicable to many characters in this novel), Peter didn’t feel real to me nor did I like him until near the end when he shakes off his customary inaction and takes a stand. That stuck as me as believable and somewhat redeemed Peter in my eyes.

Don’t be under the impression that it’s all about Peter and Holly. On the contrary, there are side plots and side characters galore and from time to time, their stories and POV’s (point of view) take over, eclipsing the main one entirely. I found this terribly distracting. Neither the side characters nor their stories spoke to me. But I read them through, generously skipping paragraphs, just to see how all that meandering would lead back to the main plot line. It was a fruitless exercise.

The to-be-or-not-to-be Romance between Peter and Holly is pivotal to the story. Despite being somewhat predictable and not as developed as it should be, it’s the one redeeming factor to a novel which otherwise didn’t fascinate me at all.

In Short

The dialogues, the scenarios, the dead slow and roundabout pace (and oh boy, does the plot meander!) – mostly every thing about this story felt dull and contrived to me. I’ve seen this book being described elsewhere on the web as “cool”, “sophisticated”, “charming”, “witty”, “romantic comedy” etc. [And all these words of praise came from major review publications – quite confirmed my lack of faith in them.] Frankly, I didn’t find it to be any of these things. Perhaps, it’s just that my own tastes are too plebian for this sort of rarified fare. Or not. You be the judge.


If you like this post, then please consider subscribing to my Full Feed RSS.
You can also Subscribe by Email and have new posts sent directly to your inbox.

If you like this post, then please consider subscribing to my Full Feed RSS.
You can also Subscribe by Email and have new posts sent directly to your inbox.

You May Also Like


Hi, Glad you stopped by!