Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Review of "Less" by Andrew Sean Greer

In the last few weeks I read two Pulitzer Prize-winning novels. I struggled through The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson, which won the coveted Fiction Prize in 2013, but I smiled my way through Less by Andrew Sean Greer (Abacus, April 2018) which won the same prize for 2018. Two novels that couldn’t be more different. Both were recognized for their literary merit.

I am not sure what the threshold is for Pulitzer Prize consideration or why one book wins while another remains on the shelf. I had chosen to read The Orphan Master’s Son because its setting is North Korea, and North Korea has been in the news lately. I chose to read Less because it’s the humorous tale of a failed novelist, about to turn fifty, who travels around the world to escape a failed relationship. That sounded just like the kind of book I would enjoy.

The Pulitzer Prize website describes Less as “a generous book, musical in its prose and expansive in its structure and range, about growing older and the essential nature of love.”

That is certainly true but there is more to Less (I had planned to use that pun from the moment I started writing this review!) Less is a novel that not only takes readers on a literal journey around the world but also on a literary journey through the world of love and one’s reflections on life while growing older.

The novel's protagonist, Arthur Less, receives a wedding invitation in the mail. A former boyfriend (yes, this book concerns same-sex relationships) is engaged. Arthur has a dilemma, whether to attend the ceremony or not. It's much easier to escape by taking a round-the-world tour with stops at ill-conceived literary events.

A writing retreat in India turns out to be quite a different sort of retreat. A culinary assignment in Japan serves up the same dishes meal after meal. Less’s companions on a camel trek across the Sahara fall sick one after the other. There are mishaps and misunderstandings all along the way.

Just when you think the plot has taken a serious turn along comes an unexpected twist that brings yet another smile to your face. The peripatetic nature of the travelogue plot runs parallel to Less’s reflections of five decades of relationships and lost love.

Reviewers have described Less as "funny," "philosophical," "poignant," "heartfelt," "lyrical," "zesty" “bedazzling,” and "comic". My opinion in a word is that the book is "fun".

Andrew Sean Greer is the bestselling author of five works of fiction, including The Confessions of Max Tivoli, which was named a best book of 2004 by the San Francisco Chronicle and the Chicago Tribune. He is the recipient of the Northern California Book Award, the California Book Award, the New York Public Library Young Lions Award, the O Henry award for short fiction and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Public Library. Greer lives in San Francisco. He has traveled to all of the locations in this novel, but he is only big in Italy. (Amazon author bio)

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