Outline features a British writer, Faye, during a weeklong trip to Athens one summer to teach a writing course to Greek students. Faye narrates the novel, which is divided into ten chapters. Each chapter focuses on a conversation Faye has with a different person she encounters while in Athens.
The first of these conversations is with an older gentleman Faye is seated next to on her flight from London to Athens at the start of her trip. She speaks to this man—whom she only refers to as her “neighbor” throughout the novel—the entire airplane voyage. Faye’s neighbor shares the broad strokes of his life: he was born in Greece to a well-off family who then moved to London when he was a child and sent him and his siblings to elite British schools. He is now a businessman who splits his time between London and Athens.
Her neighbor reflects on love, saying that it is the primary way people can rebirth themselves. He explains that he has been married twice: his first marriage was to a youthful love whom he regards as the love of his life, and his second to a beautiful yet vapid woman who eventually divorced him and took most of his money. He says he had not realized how hard life would be without his first wife. Faye thinks he is not fair to the second wife and not quite balanced in his retrospection of the past; she is concerned about establishing the truth within reality. She also reveals in this chapter that she has two sons and has recently been divorced.
Faye describes a conversation she has with Ryan, another writing teacher at the workshop. Ryan is an Irish writer with a jaded view on life and his own mildly successful writing career. He objectifies the female waitstaff while getting a drink with Faye and explains that he and his wife allow one another to flirt with others.
Faye describes the apartment she is renting in Athens from a woman named Clelia. The house is so clean and organized that Faye experiences it as impersonal. She opens drawers and cabinets in an attempt to find something secretive or telling about Clelia, but she does not find any such thing.
Faye meets up with the neighbor from the airplane, who drives her forty minutes outside of Athens to where his boat is docked. They go out on the water, and he tells her about his children and divulges that he had a third marriage—which also ended in divorce—to a very “puritanical” woman.
Faye goes swimming off the side of the boat and muses about the impulse and desire to “be free.” She believes that this desire is ultimately impossible to achieve, yet she finds it a compelling one nonetheless. She also studies the family on an adjacent boat as they enjoy the afternoon. She establishes a difference between being immersed in a situation, as she imagines the family is, and observing it from the outside, as she is. She wonders which experience is closer to reality. Stemming from this analysis, she says to her neighbor that some things, such as a shared vision of reality, cannot be said to actually exist. Her neighbor says that this could be one definition of love.
Faye gets dinner with a Greek friend of hers she knew in London, a book editor named Paniotis. Paniotis’s friend Angeliki, a passionate author who recently received acclaim for her first novel, also joins them. Faye listens to Paniotis and Angeliki discuss the difference between how they thought elements of their lives, such as marriage or jobs, would be and the reality of how hard and unfortunate they actually are.
Faye describes the first meeting of her weeklong writing class. She asks the students what they noticed while walking to the class that day. The entire class consists of the students responding one by one. The students are of varied age, physical appearance, and personality. One boy, Georgeou, who is fifteen and has long hair, is particularly energetic, talkative, and bright.
Faye goes on a second boating trip with her neighbor....
(The entire section is 1,187 words.)