Peter Russell works in finance in glorious New York City. On a flight to California for business, he meets a beautiful, intelligent, and entirely winning woman named Holly. Peter is convinced that their meeting is fate - he has always dreamed of meeting a woman and falling in love on a plane flight - and indeed, by the end of the plane trip, Peter is in love with Holly. She writes her phone number on a page torn from the book she is reading (The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann) and the two go their separate ways. Later, Peter is devastated to discover that he has lost the slip of paper with Holly’s phone number – c’est la vie.
Beginner's Greek is the story of Holly and Peter and how they lose one another, only to find each other again years later and in completely different situations. Their silent love for one another stretches for years as they live their lives and endure twists and turns, hoping that they may one day find the chance to be together.
The first striking thing about Beginner's Greek is the way it is written; it’s like a classic movie, with Katharine Hepburn as Holly and Cary Grant as Peter. The dialogue in the book is very old-fashioned and doesn’t ring true today, but the reader can almost hear those words rolling off the tongue of actors and actress of previous generations. While this is one of the endearing qualities of the book, it also serves as an annoyance for those who are deterred by contrived dialogue. There is no way anyone would naturally speak in the manner that Collins has chosen to make his characters express themselves.
The characters of the book are well written and clear-cut. The reader sympathizes with the “good guys” and hates the characters the author wants them to dislike. While this seems like it might create flat characters without dimension, this is not the case. Characters such as Julia – flawed but entirely sympathetic and believable – illustrate the author’s talent for creating personalities within his characters.
The main flaw of Beginner's Greek lies in its length. The author goes on tangents with descriptions and details, leaving the end product a hefty 448 pages. This could be lessened by about 100 pages or so without any real impact on the plot or the characters. The narrative also needs a bit more polish; one last round with an editor would have done some real good.
There is definitely a sweetness to Beginner's Greek that overrules all of its flaws. Peter and Holly’s love story is cute and endearing, motivating you to continue reading just to see if these characters manage to make it work. However, the heavy skimming required in order to reach the end does detract from the enjoyment quite a bit.
In the end, Beginner's Greek is a book worth reading. Its charm and wit are ever-present, and while Collins’ writing does need some fine tuning, he has crafted an old-fashioned love story as sweet as it is endearing. Any fan of chick lit or lighter novels will probably enjoy this book.