After reading such heavy books- I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and The Underground Railroad– I picked up Less. Reviews for Less have all said that it’s a witty and funny novel and that’s exactly what I needed to offset the horrors of the previous two books.
I had no idea about Less. I went in to this book with no prior knowledge. I wanted to allow myself to be surprised and see what happens.
Less, my friends, turned out to be one amazing book. Hats off to the brilliant writer Andrew Sean Greer for writing such a complex yet satisfying novel that deals with multiple themes: heartbreak, relationships, sexuality, loneliness, growing old and traveling the world.
It’s no surprise that this book the Pulitzer prize for fiction in 2018- that’s how good it is.
So we follow the life of Arthur Less. He is a failed novelist, who is about to turn fifty. He’s alone, sad and lonely. One day, he receives a wedding invitation. It’s from his ex-boyfriend of nine years, who is now getting married to someone else.
Arthur Less debates about whether to go to the wedding or no; if he goes, he will be very awkward to see his ex-boyfriend getting married, and if he doesn’t go, it will mean he’s been defeated.
At the same time, being a writer, he has multiples invitations from around the world for speaking seminars and writing engagements. So what does Arthur Less do? He accepts ALL those invitations.
Here is what his itinerary becomes then:
First, an interview in New York City.
Second, a conference in Mexico City.
Fourth, the Wintersitzung at the Liberated University of Berlin.
Fifth, a sojourn acorss Morocco.
Sixth, to India.
Finally, to Japan.
In his experiences at these countries world over, Less begins to wonder at what’s happening to him- is he avoiding the real issue at home by traveling, or is he really addressing his issue and moving forward? He meets people in all of these cities who teach him a thing or two about life. He goes through experiences that open his heart and mind. At the end, he discovers what it means to be an old man, and to be a human being.
The major highlight for me in Less has been the entire travel experiences. I’ve always wanted to go to Japan and Morocco and to read about Less’ experiences in these two countries just made me want to get the next flight out there. Traveling has always opened up my mind to newer horizons, and through Less, I’ve been able to travel the world (under lockdown period I must say!)
The humor in this book isn’t the kind of humor one would expect in a comedy novel, bur rather the humor falls more into the satire genre. Less is representing that typical bumbling American abroad, who doesn’t know his geography well enough. Also, a lot of the humor is written in very subtle, read between the lines kind of humor.
But in what becomes the most endearing part of the novel, it’s the human beings and the people that Less connects too that pulled my heartstrings; boundaries and differences are put aside, when he meets the Mexicans or the Germans, as well as the Indians and the Japanese.
Less is turning fifty, and that is something a lot of readers resonated with: growing old. When does one stop growing old? When does one give up? Can one continue to live young? Less teaches a lot through his experiences on adapting to the idea of growing old gracefully and embracing the joy of going into the fifties. (the world has convinced that we should be young and look young and all, so it was refreshing to read of Less’ character who embraces his ageing so gracefully).
Other prominent themes become relevant to everyone in today’s time: relationships and heartbreaks. How does one overcome them? Do they avoid facing their issues head on and jump to something else? Less does just that, and in the process, he gains so much more than what he could have imagined. That’s the beauty of life- we don’t give up because we don’t know what life has to offer to us tomorrow.
Less is a satirical novel. It will make you laugh. It will make you emotional. It will definitely open up your mind and make you realise how small we are in this world, and how we are connected to everyone else as human beings. There’s a lot of joy to be had and lot’s of good stuff that can come our way, only when we open ourselves up to the world.