Leiden Book Club 2019 Book 3: Less by Andrew Sean Greer

When I decided to add Less by Andrew Sean Greer to the Leiden Book Club reading list it had already won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, received glowing reviews and popped up several times on my Instagram feed in posts piling on praise. The cover was a calming shade of blue, the illustration just what you might expect of a best-selling novel in 2018. With all this hype, the book had zero chance of meeting my expectations.

Don’t get me wrong, Less is a perfectly lovely book. It’s beautifully written, often heartwarming and sometimes funny, but it’s not what I imagined a Pulitzer prize winning book to be. To me it read just like any of my other ‘girly books’: an easy, enjoyable read where the main character seeks to escape the realities of their life which usually includes a certain someone, they go off on a journey of self-discovery and then, after learning and growing, they end up with the person they were meant to be with.

While the prose in Less may be more sophisticated and lyrical than your average piece of ‘women’s fiction’, the plot certainly follows the familiar path of the genre with the exception that our hero is the middle aged, white, gay Arthur Less rather than a young woman in her early twenties. We follow mediocre author Arthur as he escapes the upcoming nuptials of his former lover by travelling around the world after accepting many invitations to meetings, conferences, award ceremonies etc.

According to The Washington Post what makes Less’ Pulitzer win so remarkable is that it is a comedic novel. As the Post’s critic Ron Charles said: ‘That just doesn’t happen in the hallowed chambers of literary honor’ where ‘Pulitzers are endowed on funereal novels like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or cerebral books like Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead’.

I agree that funny novels tend to be underrated but what struck me about Ron Charles hailing Less as a comic masterpiecewas that perhaps he and I were reading a different book. While Less certainly had some funny moments, I would by no means describe it as a ‘laugh-till-you-can’t-breathe funny’ novel as Ron Charles did.

At first I wondered if I wasn’t smart enough to get Less or maybe I didn’t have the right sense of humour. Maybe if I were a middle aged man I could have got more out of it. But after consulting with other book club members, who were on a similar page to me regarding the book as whole, we came to the conclusion: that while very good, Less just couldn’t live up to the hype.

I would still recommend Less: it’s a quick, easy read with some beautiful, tender moments but I would also recommend lowering your expectations in order to increase your enjoyment. Less would lend itself very well to being adapted into a heartwarming movie with Bill Nighy in the titular role, looking immaculate while traversing the globe in the signature blue suit of Arthur Less. I think that could be very enjoyable indeed.

Emma Batchelor

Emma Batchelor

As well as a near obsessive interest in fashion, Emma is a former scientist, occasional contemporary dancer, avid reader and self-confessed cat lady (she has three). Emma lived in Leiden in the Netherlands as a baby and Leiden ought to have been her middle name had her mother thought of it at the time and not chosen Louise instead.

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