Book Review: LESS

By Mona Wahid
December 5, 2018
4 minutes


A Book Review

Less is a story that makes us realize that more often than not, we expect the worst from people and also hold ourselves back because we have preconceived notions of how others see us. Once we are past those, our real persona shines through and we reach our true potential.

“Less knows so well the pleasures of youth … danger, excitement, losing oneself in a dark club with a pill, a shot, a stranger’s mouth … and, with Robert and his friends, the pleasure of old age … comfort and ease, beauty and taste, old friends and old stories and wine, whiskey, sunsets over the water. His entire life he had alternated between the two. There is his own distant youth, that daily humiliation of rinsing out your one good shirt and putting on your one good smile, along with the daily rush of newness: new pleasures, new people, new reflections of yourself. There, in Roberts late middle age of selecting his vices as carefully as ties in a Paris shop, napping in the sunlight on an afternoon and getting up from a chair and hearing the creak of death. The city of youth, the country of age. But in between, where Less is living—that exurban existence? How has he never learned to live it?”

This passage resonates deeply with readers, and explains why this book is perhaps, one of the most unpretentious contemporary reads ever.

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction 2018, Less by Andrew Sean Greer is a breath of fresh air. With its subtle humour and poignant reminders of the passing of time, this book goes beyond the story itself.


On the surface, Less is a story of a failed novelist who receives a wedding invitation from his ex-boyfriend – a wedding that he plans to miss at all costs. In order to escape the invitation, he accepts every other invitation from around the world; from France to India, to Germany, to Japan. And thus begins a journey which not only takes him halfway around the world but also becomes a journey of self-discovery.
Our hero is unveiled to the readers in layers. As he travels and meets new people, the layers peel off one by one to reveal the true Less.


Almost all the characters in the book are homosexual. Not only the two main love interests of Less but even the enigmatic and inexplicable Zohra and his frenemy Carlos. So are the other characters Lewis and Clark. Even though this seems deliberate, these characters being of the same orientation as Less himself, help the reader discover his true lessian self.

Zohra and Less’s 50th birthday fall in the same week. Both of them traveling together at this time, trying to cope with heartbreak are pivotal to the storyline:

“The brain is so wrong all the time” said Zohra, “wrong about what time it is, and who people are, and where home is: wrong wrong wrong. The lying brain”

This inner struggle is evident as the reader feels the pain behind Less’s words.


Less is a man, an author, a gay man, a mediocre author, a bad gay author, a bad gay and a man who has not been able to understand why the eminent poet, Roberts loved him, and why young Freddy wanted more from him than what most gay men settle for. His self-deprecating nature and probable mid-life crisis made him undermine his true charisma, making him think adversely about himself as well as others

The passage about him winning a prize for his writing describes this aptly:

“More thunder unsettles Less from his thoughts. But it isn’t thunder; it is applause, as the young writer is pulling at Less’s coat sleeve. For Arthur Less has won.”


This statement could not be more true than for Arthur Less himself. The man was definitely more than what he believed himself to be. He was more loved, more admired, more interesting than the “lessian” view of his own self. This low self-esteem makes him lose meaningful relationships:

“How does Less get the world so wrong? Over and over again? Where is the exit from moments like this? Where is the donkey door out?”

He struggles to make sense of the emotional disorder that surrounds him, the inner peace that is so elusive, the sense of helplessness when relationships go wrong and are hard or impossible to fix.


For those who feel that Less might not be worth their time as it’s not your everyday romance novel, you will be surprised. The book’s message will resonate with all readers. In fact, it’s slightly reminiscent of Eat, Pray, Love.

Less will win your heart with its sharp prose and astute wisdom, humor and wit, and meaningful insights into the human psyche. This book is intelligently written. It is not pretentious as many contemporary novels can be. the narrative delivers a breezy, fun read with nuances that will make you chuckle because they are so relatable to everyone. The back and forth jumps in the timeline take a little getting used to but it’s part of the essence of the book and contributes to the overall impact.

Less is a breezy, light and insightful read, well worth the Pulitzer it won.

 Pinky Memsaab is about real life and real people. catch the review here.


About Mona Wahid

Mona Wahid holds a Bachelors Degree in Law and Political science. She runs a Facebook group called "Reader's Lounge" and is also the moderator of her Islamabad-based book club. Mona is an avid reader and a mother of 3.

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