Less is so much more
While I don’t pretend to understand the current trend to cartoon-like artwork on the covers of best-selling novels, it’s safe to assume this is a marketing ploy designed to appeal to a broader audience. In the case of Less, the baby boy blue cover portrays a man in a blue suit falling from the sky surrounded by a flurry of paper.
It’s not a book I would have bought in expectation of a great read. Unless of course I had ignored my impulses to write it off based on the cover art, and failed (as I initially did) to notice the gold button which read: Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2018, which was of course the reason I wanted to read it in the first place. I should have learnt by now never to judge a book by its cover. Lesson learned. (Pun intended).
Less is charming and witty. It is at times laugh out loud funny. It is also sad, elegant and universal in its themes of love, loss and aging. Arthur Less is a middling author whose novels have only become truly popular in Italy. His latest novel has been rejected by his publisher. And he is better known in literary circles for being the former lover of a great writer, a man he lured away from his wife and later abandoned in pursuit of someone younger.
The years have otherwise been kind to Less, whose perennially youthful appearance still has broad appeal. But Less is soon to turn 50 and his younger lover has left him and is soon to be married. Heartbroken, Less decides to accept a slew of invitations to teach, to write, or to appear at literary festivals around the world.
First he will go to Berlin to teach. This makes perfect sense as Less is fluent in German. At least he thinks he is. Certainly his publicist believes it, and the chancellor of the university is delighted. Eventually Less is apprised of the fact that his grasp of the language is woeful. Despite this, his course is unexpectedly and wildly popular. And a young sports jock is at hand to help pass the long nights in a foreign city.
But neither adulation nor adoration can dull the ache of longing for his lost love, Freddy. When his plane is delayed in Paris Less attends an arty party where he is told by a drunken critic why his novels are widely shunned by the gay community. Less’s sense of failure is complete. He is not even good at being gay which is something he had thought came naturally.
Less is eventually forced to confront himself. In India he knuckles down to rework his rejected novel finding unexpected joy in the process. He ponders on the role of editors whose diligence and insight can make a good novel great. And an old friend returns to remind him of a pivotal time in his life.
Eventually as he moves so far away from his old life that he is now ready to return to it, Less’s journey ends right where it began.
Reviewer: Peta Stavelli
Hachette, RRP $24.99