Book Review: Less by Andrew Sean Greer


About the Book:

The Pulitzer prize-winning novel about a failed writer trying to escape his problems by traveling abroad.


Arthur Less is a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrives in the post: it is from an ex-boyfriend of nine years who is engaged to someone else. Arthur can’t say yes – it would be too awkward; he can’t say no – it would look like defeat. So, he begins to accept the invitations on his desk to half-baked literary events around the world.

From France to India, Germany to Japan, Arthur almost falls in love, almost falls to his death, and puts miles between him and the plight he refuses to face. LESS is a novel about mishaps, misunderstandings and the depths of the human heart.

My Thoughts:

I have to say, this novel caught me by surprise. I wasn’t anticipating enjoying it quite as much as I did, because I initially only read it on account of it winning the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, not because the book itself sparked any real interest within me. I have a bit of a thing about reading the Pulitzer fiction winners. Before my review days, I used to read each one, but that’s dropped back in recent years. I aim to turn that around though and play catch up whenever I can squeeze one in. I’ll quietly call it The Pulitzer Project but I might hold off making it official because we all know how The Classics Eight is going! Anyway, back to the business of Less.

‘Perhaps Less, alone, is kidding. Here, looking at his clothes – black jeans for New York, khaki for Mexico, blue suit for Italy, down for Germany, linen for India – costume after costume. Each one is a joke, and the joke is on him: Less the gentleman, Less the author, Less the tourist, Less the hipster, Less the colonialist. Where is the real Less? Less the young man terrified of love? The dead-serious Less of twenty-five years ago? Well, he has not packed him at all. After all these years, Less doesn’t even know where he’s stored.’

Like I said above, the enjoyment factor for me was quite high with this novel. It’s a very entertaining read, funny in a smart way, and written with an edge of sophistication and a lack of crudeness that takes it a notch higher than a regular ‘chick-lit’ read. And that’s essentially what Less is: gay chick-lit for everyone, if that makes any sense at all. I’m astonished it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Not because it isn’t a good book, but because it’s so unlike the novels that usually win. And maybe that’s a good thing.

Arthur Less is about to turn 50. When he receives an invitation to his former lover’s wedding, he decides to run away, overseas, by way of accepting a chain of engagements around the world, funded for the most part by conferences, prize committees, universities and publishers. It’s kind of brilliant how Arthur puts the trip together, and of course, from the minute he sets off, much hilarity ensues. For each place Arthur visits, there’s a comedy of errors, but it never seems overdone, just rather funny and entertaining. As we witness Arthur going from place to place, we also bear witness to his memories of other trips, with people he loved: ‘the good old days’. On the cusp of 50, Arthur is feeling his age; he’s also crippled with loneliness and filled with self-doubt. The Arthur everyone else sees and likes is not the same Arthur staring back from the mirror. It’s easy to recognise the way Arthur feels because loneliness is universal, as is self-doubt. In the end, I really liked the ordinariness of this novel, it makes it very relatable and with the author’s savvy prose, it’s also very readable.

‘He realises that, even after Robert, he never truly let himself be alone. Even here, on this trip: first Bastian, then Javier. Why this endless need for a man as a mirror? To see the Arthur Less reflected there? He is grieving, for sure – the loss of his lover, his career, his novel, his youth – so why not cover the mirrors, rend the fabric over his heart, and just let himself mourn? Perhaps he should try alone.’

Andrew Sean Greer has a real way with words when it comes to conjuring far flung places. He truly brings them to life on the page. The novel has a mystery narrator, one whom we don’t discover the identity of until almost at the end of the story. I liked the use of this narrator, occasionally making himself known to the reader, imparting some prophetic intonation about Arthur before stepping back and giving Arthur the limelight once more. It was clever and different. Less is a novel that has much to recommend it. It’s quaint, funny, smart, and engaging. Arthur endeared himself to me over the course of this novel and I have a feeling he’s going to stay with me for a while yet.


About the Author:

Andrew Sean Greer is the bestselling author of five works of fiction, including The Confessions of Max Tivoli, which was named a best book of 2004 by the San Francisco Chronicle and the Chicago Tribune. He is the recipient of the Northern California Book Award, the California Book Award, the New York Public Library Young Lions Award, the O Henry award for short fiction and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Public Library. Greer lives in San Francisco. He has travelled to all of the locations in this novel, but he is only big on Italy.

Published by Hachette Australia
Released on 20th April 2018

11 thoughts on “Book Review: Less by Andrew Sean Greer

  1. Agree, a surprising novel. So many elements that I enjoyed. I heard the author speak last month, which made me want to read the book again, particularly as he said it was based on Cheri by Colette.

    Liked by 1 person

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