Arthur Less is a not-terribly-successful gay novelist. One ex-boyfriend is a famous poet, another ex-boyfriend is Freddy, the son of the Carlos who has been a frenemy of Arthur's all these years. Invited to Freddy's wedding to another man, Arthur decides the only way to avoid accepting is to be out of the country so he strings together a series of minor literary offers into a world tour: an interview in New York, a lecture in Mexico, a prize event in Italy and so on. His experience are comic and tragic and most of all they are absurd (he is almost late to interview a more famous novelist because the clock in the hotel lobby isn't working and the publicist assumes Arthur is a woman; the novelist repeatedly vomits because of food poisoning etc).
It is a gentle, rambling picaresque with some poignant observations on life from the perspective of a gay man growing old without a partner and some moments which prompted a chuckle (which is rather more than most 'comic' novels elicit from me). It is sweet and kind and amusing but, as is the common fault of picaresques, there is little structure and no drive: it is difficult to see that we are going anywhere until the last section, rather rapidly, attempts to make sense of it all. Otherwise, the most interesting thing about the book is that it occasionally lapses into the narrator talking directly to the reader; the mystery of the narrator's identity is not revealed until the end.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2018
There are some magical lines:
- "As he waits, around and around the room circles a young woman in a brown wool dress, a species of tweed humming-bird, pollinating first this group of tourists and then that one." (Less at First)
- "It is a bad musical, but, like a bad lay, a bad musical can still do its job perfectly well." (Less at First)
- "There follows, I am sad to say, a very long ride on a very long road ... to your final place of rest. He sighs, for he has spoken the truth for all men." (Less Mexican)
- "The cruel checkmate logic of conversation" (Less French)
- "Twenty years of joy and support and friendship, that's a success. Twenty years of anything with another person is a success. If a band stays together twenty years, it's a miracle. If a comedy duo stays together twenty years, they're a triumph. Is this night a failure because it's going to end in an hour?" (Less Moroccan)
- "People use the same old table, even though it's falling apart and it's been repaired and repaired, just because it was their grandmother's. That's how towns become ghost towns. It's how houses become junk stores. And I think it's how people get old." (Less Moroccan)
- "We know there's no love of your life. Love isn't terrifying like that. It's walking the fucking dog so the other one can sleep in, it's doing taxes, it's cleaning the bathroom without hard feelings." (Less Moroccan)
- "With a joy bordering on sadism, he degloves every humiliation to show its risible lining." (Less Indian)
- "By now he is well acquainted with humility. It is the one piece of luggage he has not lost." (Less At Last).
Perhaps a little superficial but cute and clever. April 2021; 261 pages
|This review was written by|
the author of Motherdarling
Other Pulitzer Prize winners reviewed in this blog include:
- The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (finalist, 1999)
- Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (2005)
- The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (finalist, 2013)
- The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (2014)
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2015)
- There There by Tommy Orange (finalist, 2019)
- A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (winner 2011)