Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Less is a comic, bittersweet novel about a failing writer who travels the world to avoid his ex-boyfriend’s wedding. Arthur Less doesn’t want to go to Freddy Pelu’s wedding, nor does he want to decline and sit at home. So instead, he takes up some chance invitations to travel: teaching in Berlin, an award ceremony in Italy, a not-quite-writers’ retreat in India. He turns fifty and fails to avoid looking back on his past, all the while having minor travel mishaps and wondering if he still has a love story to come.

This is a touching novel about someone who doesn’t quite realise how their life appears to others. Arthur’s journey pokes fun at Americans travelling and at the things writers who aren’t quite the writers they want to be end up doing. At the same time, the novel is a kind of bittersweet love story, about someone who can see his two main relationships in the past and can’t quite escape them. The style is distinctive and Greer uses a not-quite-present narrator to frame Less’ life, a detail which makes sense by the end.

Less is a witty and charming novel that feels like a twentieth-century book updated slightly for the twenty-first. Arthur Less is the kind of slightly sad comic protagonist that you hope things will end up well for.

Quick book picks for May

Only a few for this month, but a good bunch of fiction featuring some historical, some globe-spanning, and some very focused on the personal.

  • Less by Andrew Sean Greer – A bittersweet comic novel about a struggling writer who takes up invitations to strange events around the world in order to avoid his ex-boyfriend’s wedding.
  • House of Gold by Natasha Solomons – Europe poised on the cusp of World War One is the setting for this historical novel, about the Goldbaum family and how rebellious Greta attempts to reclaim her own life. Mixes the personal with the large scale history surprisingly well.
  • We Are Young by Cat Clarke – Another tense YA novel from Cat Clarke, this one focuses on how a car accident can bring various issues in a community to the forefront, from the perspective of the girl whose new stepbrother is the sole survivor.
  • The Pharmacist’s Wife by Rebecca Tait – A dark historical novel set in Victorian Edinburgh, where ┬áRebecca Palmer’s pharmacist husband tries to control her using heroin and manipulation.
  • Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey – This novel tells the story of a girl who goes missing and then is found a few days later, unwilling to discuss what happened. Told from the perspective of her mother, it looks at depression and how a biased viewpoint can lead to assumptions.