Arthur Less is about to turn fifty and is pretty fucked. Or that’s what the struggling author thinks anyway.
A potentially depressed and almost definitely alcoholic anti-hero, Arthur Less is the mentally fraught protagonist at the centre of 2018’s Pulitzer Prize Fiction winner, Less. Writer Andrew Sean Greer has crafted a heart-warmingly tragic yet whimsical novel that blends moments of deep reflection and irony. A fictional autobiography or commentary on love and loss in the 21st Century? Less may be about a soon to be 50-year-old, but its moments of reflection are so pure that even the most in-experienced at life reader will be brought close to tears.
Suffering from a severe bout of writer’s block, a wedding invitation from his ex-boyfriend is exactly what Arthur Less didn’t need. Rather than begrudgingly attend the wedding of his, much younger, ex-lover of nine years, Arthur empties his desk draw of all the invitations he has neglected and accepts them all. By the time he turns fifty Less will travel around the globe on a journey of mass avoidance and, what turns out to be, self-discovery.
From facing near death in Berlin to being trapped in a Moroccan sandstorm and a steamy night in Paris, Less reads like travel porn, but its themes and sensitivity offer readers something more poignant. At the heart of the tightly written 300-page novel is a musing of finding love, losing love and searching for it once again. Written from the perspective of an unidentified, yet automatically trusted, narrator, readers are positioned to view Arthur’s life from a position not of judgement or sympathy but harsh, cold relatability.
The character of Arthur is an endearing combination of incompetent and oblivious, represented by his inability to accept that his German-language proficiency may not be up to the standard he believes it to be. Yet, as the novel proceeds Greer unravels the mid-life crisis persona of his protagonist to expose a man grappling with a desire to hold onto his past and his fear of ending up like the lovers he has had before.
While Arthur is a gay man, as might be expected Less doesn’t spend any time discussing Arthur’s coming out, or his struggle to do so. A refreshing reprieve from other contemporary LGBTQI+ themed novels. Instead, Greer presents the feelings and relationships of his misstep-prone protagonist as familiar and normal. If you have ever had a broken heart, Greer has subtle ability to make you remember it just phrases after dropping a whip of satirical commentary.
Described by the heralded New York Times as "inspired, lyrical," "elegiac," and "ingenious” Greer’s writing is perfectly in line with the demands of woke readers. As Arthur flies from destination to destination, Greer stunningly exposes the beauty of some of the world’s most romanticised cities in a thoroughly modern manner. Contained to a 300-page format, Greer is only able to give readers the slightest taste of each country. However, he manages to somehow embody the sensory experience of each location nonetheless.
Apathetic readers are, in most instances rightfully, deterred by award winning novels. However, Greer manages to steer the line between its critical nuances and applicable to masses storyline so well, that whatever literary praise it has received is rendered irrelevant. While Uni students might be well off the age of love-lost love, Greer breaths life into an often satirised caricature with meaningful elegance.