The sequel to Andrew Sean Greer’s now celebrated novel Less released a few days ago to tremendous excitement worldwide. Less, which released to great acclaim in 2017, wasn’t an overnight success, but it went to win the Pulitzer Prize and found a wide readership eventually after coming out as a paperback. Pun unintended.
In Less, a middle-aged, cisgender, white gay writer on the downslide, goes on an impulsive literary tour around the world only to get as far away from his ex-lover who’s about to get married, and from the imminent, inevitable hurt that awaits him. It’s the uncomplicated nature of this story of love and loss with literary festivals and events as the backdrop that made it an unlikely Pulitzer winner; Greer himself joked about it when he was at the Jaipur Literary Festival in 2019.
Arthur Less’s ironic loneliness stems from his habit of running away from heartbreaks by leading a commitment-phobic life. Greer sums up his own novel most palpably when he writes about Arthur: “How to live alone and yet not be alone?”
Less is a delightful travelogue, an ode to the writing life – its grandeurs and pitfalls, and a queer romance rolled into one. Our hero is Arthur Less, “an author too old to be fresh and too young to be rediscovered, one who never sits next to anyone on a plane who has heard of his books”, bumbling through the often overtly self-absorbed world of publishing, unsure of how to revive either his career or the matters that matter most to his heart.
We go where Less goes, from Mexico to Italy and Germany, to France, Morocco, India, and Japan. And by the time life comes full circle, back to San Francisco, fearing the worst, we hope and pray with him. There are no cataclysmic events this hero is battling in this novel about a novelist, often a tricky path for writers to tread even when done with caution. Greer does it with compassion and flair.
The biggest success of Less is that by the time we are reading the final pages of the book, all we want is for Arthur Less to be happy.