Less is the title of the award-winning novel by 48-year-old, openly gay author Andrew Sean Greer about an openly gay author named Arthur Less who as his fiftieth birthday approaches decides to go on an extended trip around the world primarily in order to avoid any social obligations involved with the imminent marriage of his former (much younger) lover Freddy Pelu to another man.
I am somewhat ashamed as an openly gay man myself who is an avid reader (and who turned 50 this year!) that it took me this long to discover and finally read Less. (I think I remember some of the buzz when it won the Pulitzer Prize for Best Novel in 2018 but even that didn’t provoke me to pick it up then). I’m here to urge you to learn from my mistake and read Less sooner rather than later!
For one thing, the book is relatively short (well under 300 pages) and laugh-out-loud funny. I literally laughed out loud multiple times, especially in the first half of the book. In some circles the fact that a humorous novel won the Pulitzer is more significant than the fact that an openly gay author won for a book with a central gay character.
Less is essentially a travelogue, a cautionary tale and a love story all in one. It is also cleverly structured (it uses long chapters that revolve around Arthur Less’s trips to various countries like Italy, Germany, Morocco, India and Japan). While sticking to these forms it also pokes fun at them in interesting ways.
Less reminds me of Mohsin Hamid's How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia, which subverts the self-help form to make profound observations about life, destiny and virtue. Greer does something similar by subverting the story of the solo American traveler traipsing around the world to make profound statements about the nature of love, aging and happiness. The two works are similar in another way in that they both deploy the narrative voice in tricky and surprising ways. Although Arthur Less is the protagonist of Less, he is not the narrator of the novel. There’s someone else who narrates key scenes of the book and the reason is not clear until the very end. Although there are substantial hints dropped along the way the end of the book still packs an emotional wallop.
In many ways Less is a tour de force. I hope Armie Hammer has called his agent to get the film rights, because he would seem to be perfect casting for the lead role of Arthur Less (who is described as blond,VERY tall, handsome and average in most ways, with innocent eyes).
Author: Andrew Sean Greer.
Paperback: 273 pages.
Publisher: Lee Boudreaux Books.
Date Published: July 18, 2017.
Date Read: November 13, 2018.
GOODREADS RATING: ★★★★★ (5.0/5.0).
OVERALL GRADE: A/A+ (4.08/4.0).