Book review: Less by Andrew Sean Greer

“Who says you can’t run away from your problems?”

Less is the 2018 winner of the Pulitzer prize for fiction and it is bloody well deserving of it! I remember buying it on a whim as a Christmas present for myself in 2018. It was a bad time and I had been struggling a lot mentally and emotionally. This book actually helped in lifting my spirits up.

Arthur Less is turning fifty and wants to run away from his problems which include his rejected novel, his ageing woes and the looming wedding of his ex-lover. After he accepts every discarded invitation to literary events and minor gigs we follow him on his misadventures across Mexico, Germany, Italy, Morocco, India and finally Japan. He’s a man who has lost his love but refuses to lose face. Don’t you think we’re all a little bit Less? This book is so warm and witty that by the time you finish it you’ll have happy tears in your eyes.

A lot of people have been cynical about Less saying it was difficult to understand. The writing employs stream of consciousness which is a narrative technique and requires you to pay attention. So if you are someone who likes to skim through pages maybe you’ll find this a tough read. But if you pay attention you’ll find how wonderful and cleverly funny this book is!

Favourite quotes

  • By the end, Arthur Less is in tears, sobbing in his seat, and he thinks he has been sobbing quietly until the lights come up and the woman seated beside him turns and says, “Honey, I don’t know what happened in your life, but I am so so sorry,” and gives him a lilac-scented embrace. Nothing happened to me, he wants to say to her. Nothing happened to me. I’m just a homosexual at a Broadway show.
  • “Strange to be almost fifty, no? I feel like I just understood how to be young.” “Yes! It’s like the last day in a foreign country. You finally figure out where to get coffee, and drinks, and a good steak. And then you have to leave. And you won’t ever be back.”
  • “Twenty years of joy and support and friendship, that’s a success. Twenty years of anything with another person is a success. If a band stays together twenty years, it’s a miracle. If a comedy duo stays together twenty years, they’re a triumph. Is this night a failure because it will end in an hour? Is the sun a failure because it’s going to end in a billion years? No, it’s the fucking sun. Why does a marriage not count? It isn’t in us, it isn’t in human beings, to be tied to one person forever.”

Anecdote: Last January I went to my first Jaipur Literature festival and met Andrew Sean Greer. He signed my copy of Less, chatted a bit and took a picture with me. This is the calm, heavily edited and short version of the story.