Review: Less by Andrew Sean Greer

LessI listened to the audio book version of this which was about eight hours long. This is a charming, light-hearted (and Pulitzer prize winning!) story about a writer, Arthur Less, who is turning 50, taking a trip around the world to escape the reality that his ex-lover, Freddie, is getting married to someone else. Through each stop on his trip, he stumbles into good fortune. He wins an award he wasn’t expecting to win in Italy; he meets a man in Germany who tolerates him despite his awful grasp on the language; he is one of the only people not stricken with a stomach bug on a tour in Morocco, which he is only on because someone else cancelled; he gets to spend an unexpected evening in Paris at a dinner party where he receives advice from an old colleague; he injures his foot in India which somehow leads him to be the only guest at a soon-to-be-open resort. Throughout the trip, he tries not to think about the wedding, and he hears hints that something unexpected had happened, but doesn’t get an opportunity to ask.

The book is narrated in the third person, but about 2/3 of the way through the book, the narrator hints that he knows Less personally. Then a few chapters later, the narrator hints at more. Who is the narrator?

I really liked the way this story was told, country by country, with backstory woven in. I’m not sure of the author’s sexuality but there is a subtext where Less, a gay man, is told he is a “bad gay” because he writes stories in which gay characters suffer and are not likeable. Less, as described by Greer, is likeable and is finding fortune in unexpected places. And it has a happy ending (sorry, spoiler alert). So maybe Greer himself was conscious of this and wrote it into his novel. Clever, either way. I also really liked how phrases and sort of “inside jokes” are repeated throughout the book. “Spoonie” was a word used early on as a sort of insulting word that appeared in a book review co-written Less and his ex, a famous poet (and Pulitzer winner himself, albeit a fictional Pulitzer) named Robert Brownburn. It comes up a few more times; once in which Less is poking fun at himself.

The book examines coming to terms with aging, being alone, and chasing success. All themes each one of us has surely contemplated at one point. Perhaps we all have a little Less in us??




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