Less by Andrew Sean Greer

This is a wonderful book and the author, Greer, absolutely makes the most of a character with the surname of Less: Arthur Less. It is a story of the publishing world, getting older and love – although not necessarily in that order.

Arthur Less is an author, not a terribly successful one but has had a book published. His latest is rejected by his publisher and his ex-lover, Freddy, decides to get married and invites Less to the wedding. In order to avoid it, Less accepts all the invitations he receives as an author to speak at conferences, teach for a few weeks etc and soon has a world wide tour to attend to. It is a low cost tour, funny little hotels, authors getting sick and Less having to stand in for them, being entertained by those who are doing it as a job or for the free meal and lots of inane conversation if you have a language in common. You have to wonder if Greer is basing this on his own experiences because it doesn’t show publishing in the best light.

Less is a gentle character, not particularly good at anything, full of self-doubt but has an uncanny knack of making people feel special in his company but also the misfortune to have everything that could go wrong actually go wrong. A less (Less) exaggerated Mr Bean perhaps. His adventures around the world are funny and the chapter ‘Less German’ had me laughing out loud. German was the only language he could speak, although it turns out not as well as he thought – clever title for the chapter.

Less is so self-absorbed that he misses several important communications – a telephone call as he is about to get on a plane, a note he shoves into his pocket so it takes right until the end to find out where this story is leading to. The narrator suddenly becomes clear and you realise why he is spoken of so lovingly even if he could be described as a walking disaster.

I loved the writing. The sentences flow and there are some exceptional words such as pantagruelian (enormous) and devices such as repetition used to very good effect.

What does a camel love? I would guess nothing in the world. Not the sand that scours her, or the sun that bakes her, or the water she drinks like a teetotaller. Not sitting down, blinking her lashes like a starlet. Not standing up, moaning in indignant fury as she manages her adolescent limbs. Not her fellow camels, to whom she shows the disdain of an heiress forced to fly coach. Not the humans who have enslaved her. Not the oceanic monotony of the dunes. Not the flavourless grass she chews, then chews again, then again, then again, in a sullen struggle for digestion. Not the hellish day. Not the heavenly night. Not sunset. Not sunrise. Not the sun or the moon or the stars. And surely not the heavy American, a few pounds overweight but not bad for his age, taller than most and top heavy, tipping from side to side as she carries this human, this Arthur Less, pointlessly across the Sahara.


I love how we get what a camel is like from what they aren’t. It’s such a good way to describe them, it gets faster and faster like a stone rolling down hill until we get to Less, and is perfect for describing him.

I think this is definitely a book club book, there being lots to discuss. Questions which jump to mind at present are:

This story feels like a quest, even if Less doesn’t know it. What is he searching for and what are his obstacles?

Is there a chapter you particularly enjoyed or a section? Any part you would like to share with us?It is a novel of mishaps and misunderstandings. Any you particularly enjoyed?

What is Greer saying about the world of publishing/aging/love?

What did you think of the writing?

I can see why this won the 2018 Pulitzer (pronounced as decreed in the book as Pull-it-sir) Prize for Literature and I believe Less is Lost is now published so I am waiting for my library to get it. In fact, I am hassling them for it!

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