Beginner's Greek is one of the most satisfying romantic stories I have read in ages — and lately I've read some great love stories (post-marital Darcy and Elizabeth, anyone?). James Collins produces a very complex, enjoyable and tension-creating love story in this, his debut novel.
Peter and Holly meet on a cross-country flight. If there is such a thing as "love at first sight," they've managed to find it in the hours spent talking easily and pleasantly sitting side-by-side on the plane. As they disembark, Holly gives Peter the number where she will be staying, and Peter promises to call. If only he can keep his promise.
The next time he sees Holly, it's on the arm of his best friend, Jonathan. Peter respects his friend and won't stand in his way, and watches silently as the woman of his dreams marries his best friend. When Peter in turn meets Charlotte, he finds a woman with whom he could be happy, and they marry. The four of them — Charlotte, Peter, Jonathan and Holly — will be friends forever. But Fate intervenes.
Fate also brings a cast of fascinating characters that tell the story (their stories, the story of Peter and/or Holly) from their own perspectives. Readers meet Charlotte's father Dick and stepmother Julia, whose stories intertwine in ways one never expects and who tell their parts in the story with honesty and clarity. We meet Graham, Holly's father, in a scene that made me laugh and cry aloud. We meet Arthur, whose part in the story is rather complex and wholly unexpected. Then there's Miss Harrison, who saves the day more than once with a cool detachment that belies her intricate involvement with the tale. We end the story with one last reminder that what we do when we are in this world continue much longer than we realize.
What drives this book is the characters: they are complete and complex, clever and self-aware — and absurdly good people. Would I have the presence of mind to react with Peter's kindness and selflessness? Boy, I hope not. And yet they are wholly believable, whether by our own desire to be so or by the truth of their character.
The story has twists and turns that sometimes are telegraphed and sometimes are complete surprises. It's not wholly unique, but it is original and delightful. There are some moments that ring so true that I would swear the author had been reading my diaries. There is one love declaration scene that made me feel good that some of the most romantic scenes are the most realistic — and are the most wonderful.
From time to time, the language is almost archaic, with, as one reviewer put it, Victorian exclamations. At times, the character and storylines stretch almost to the point of breaking. Would you say what she said or do what he did? Would anyone? Who cares! It works within the confines of this novel.
Read this book. Enjoy this book. Then do what I did: recommend it to everyone you know who wants a satisfying, delightful read.