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Beginner's Greek: A Novel Hardcover – January 9, 2008

3.1 out of 5 stars 152 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

James Collins's Beginner's Greek is a tender tale of how love conquers all, even if it takes longer than some might be willing to wait. Chick Lit fans especially will appreciate the uniquely male perspective that Collins, who spent most of his career as a journalist and an investment banker, brings to this modern fairy tale.

When 27-year-old Peter Russell boards a cross-country flight to Los Angeles, he fully expects to sit next to the love of his life. As luck would have it, he sits next to Holly Edwards, with whom he falls in love instantly. A lost phone number leads to years of wondering "what if," until Peter's best friend Jonathan introduces him to his new girlfriend, who is of course the same Holly of Peter's dreams. After Jonathan and Holly marry, Peter settles down with Charlotte, a Francophile who Peter tries to tolerate, but mostly just evokes feelings of pity and hatred. Of course, as with any fairy tale, the possibility for a happy ending is never truly out of reach, and Beginner's Greek is chock full of twists and turns to keep the action going.

While some of the dialogue may make readers feel like they just stepped out of a Victorian novel ("Oh no! I had no idea it was so late! Poor Peter! I'm sure you were coming to fetch me!"), Collins's characters convey enough depth to keep readers engaged through some of the more fanciful stretches of this captivating novel. --Gisele Toueg

From Publishers Weekly

The two young professionals of Collins's polished debut, Holly and Peter, meet on a flight bound from New York to L.A. They tacitly understand they are soul mates, and she invites him to dinner, but Peter soon discovers that he has lost the number Holly wrote on a page torn from Mann's The Magic Mountain. With Peter's financial career and New York society as a mundane backdrop, years pass and Holly ends up married to Jonathan, a successful author and womanizer—and, conveniently, Peter's best friend. Still aching for his one-time seatmate, Peter marries Charlotte, a dull Francophile, because it made sense. Charlotte, of course, is also in love with someone else—a former flame, Maximilien-Francois-Marie-Isidore. At Peter and Charlotte's wedding, Jonathan is struck by lightning, precipitating an endless series of events that changes the lives of family, friends and lovers alike—including Peter's boss and Charlotte's ex-stepmother. Former Time editor Collins, 48, writes as if fully aware that anyone who saw any one of a thousand other romantic comedies will find the plot familiar: he plays romantic comedy clichés with an expert coolness. Anyone for whom chick lit is a guilty pleasure will find the tone here multiple notches above the usual fare. (Jan.)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition (January 9, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316021555
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316021555
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (152 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,676,076 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By KBM on October 19, 2007
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I've been reading so many bad books lately, I now start each book very skeptically. I'm ready to criticize any dialogue that doesn't ring true. I have begun to expect scenarios that seem contrived. Furthermore, I received an advance copy of this book. The last advance copy of a book I received was SO bad, that I expected this one to be the same.

Thankfully, I was wrong here. This book was actually pretty good. It didn't start out strong, though. I had to wade through several chapters until it found its rhythm.

One of the first things I noticed was that the protagonist of the story, Peter, didn't seem like any male I ever have known. The author characterized him in such a way that I assumed he was going to be rather nerdy throughout the book. Later, however, it was clear that Peter was just an upstanding and goodhearted guy who was also intelligent, witty, and well-adjusted. Somehow, I didn't get this impression when we first met Peter. He came off as neurotic, instead.

Another thing that really bothered me was everyone's excessive obsession with looks and contrived expressions and reading each expression and actively putting on a certain expression to elicit a certain response. This was very strange to read in the earlier part of the book. Yet, I can't really find any fault in it, because some of the whole forced expression thing seemed to ring true in the sense I could picture everything the author wrote. Also, towards the second part of the book, as the book really got better, this seemed to work more favoribly.

Overall, though, I really liked this book (towards the second half) and I liked how the characters were actually fleshed out and interesting. I found it easy to sympathize with the characters and began to actually cheer for them.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Remember that cross-country flight you took when an interesting, captivating person sat next to you and the two of you talked about life, your interests, philosophy and literature?

Remember that work event you attended (by choice) at which everyone was witty and warm, rich and powerful, beautiful, well read, and articulate and found you equally enchanting?

Neither do I, and yet these things happen in Beginner's Greek.

It seems like Collins is aiming for that zany comedy feeling from the 40s. You know - boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, but then a series of events occur that keep them apart. Unfortunately, Beginner's Greek is set in modern times with characters who talk like they are out of the 40s, and it just doesn't work. I won't even go into the disbelief over a romantic man who longs to meet the woman of his dreams, and, when he does, puts all his faith in a hastily scribbled phone number on a torn piece of paper stuffed into his front pocket as the only means of contacting this goddess.

I kept trying to get into the book, and I kept trying to find something redeeming about the characters, but I finally had to admit defeat. The characters are flat and "sweet" to the point of being vacuous. The book is far too focused on the introspective lives of the characters, and no one actually seems to do or work at anything. There isn't one character here that I found sympathetic or likable. They all float around until something happens to them or around them, and then they sit around and talk about how odd or horrible or wonderful that thing is. Some characters simply drop out of sight altogether.

Finally, I can't help but comment on the overuse of BIG words.
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Format: Hardcover
This spirited novel gets off to a questionable start. I believe it is intended that way, until you fall into its rhythm. At about page 60 I was hooked. By that time, I really grokked the narrator's flow and the prose became so natural that it was like I was living the story. The low-star reviewers did not get it. This was not "zany" or "40's style" or vacuous. The narration is intentionally tongue-in-cheek and subversive. And yet...and yet. The Woody Allen movie, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, had a similar style of narrator. It winks at you and yet it rings true. It is agile and poised and yet disarming.

James Collins' story is like a painting or a beautiful photograph. Do you know how a painting or photograph, although depicting something real, can seem fantastical because of the play of light and shadow and mood and atmosphere? Do you know how a painting can be something unearthly, unreal, but because of the emotional rendering and quality can seem more genuine than a realistic interpretation? That is how this novel unfolds. It reveals itself through the crevices of the seemingly obvious story. It is like this big paradox. From the (wink wink) outer story the aperture widens, or even narrows simultaneously. You are holding a camera and you focus it on a field and in this field is an array of images. If you choose to look at it shallowly, then you will only see genus and species. But if you are sympathetic to your surroundings, there is a whole palette of beautiful colors and tones and textures to capture and captivate.

This is a page-turning love story. The characters are not meant to mimic "real" life. It is a romantic tale that hovers above reality but is an equipoise between absurd and exquisite. It is very human with spare but striking prose.
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