Less, by Andrew Sean Greer

by Eve D.
Book cover for Less, by Andrew Sean Green

I don’t read enough. If you know me in person, you have heard me say this often. What I mean to say, actually, is that I don’t read enough books. I read plenty of online everyday news content, articles, opinions, work stuff. But there is not much time to read books. Funny enough, just as lockdown presented its own opportunities despite the difficulties, loadshedding -especially evening loadshedding – does the same. Now, for about 2 hours every second evening or so, I fire up my Kindle and read a book, guilt free.

I just finished Less. I knew little about it when I started reading it, only that it must have intrigued me enough at some point, for some reason, for me to buy it. Other than that, I knew nothing. It turned out to be a story of a love story. Or a story of many love stories, as told about Less, a gay man with a broken heart and an approaching fiftieth birthday.To get his mind off such things, Less goes to travel the world. The story is gentle, told by an unknown narrator, who has insight into joys and sorrows.

“Greer is an exceptionally lovely writer, capable of mingling humor with sharp poignancy…. Brilliantly funny…. Greer’s narration, so elegantly laced with wit, cradles the story of a man who loses everything: his lover, his suitcase, his beard, his dignity.”―Ron Charles, Washington Post

I have a somewhat unhealthy addiction that compels me to rush to Amazon to read about any book I have just finished reading. (I do the same for shows and movies I have finished watching, turning to IMDB and a general Google search to start the journey down a rabbit hole). I was quite surprised that the book is in fact a Pulitzer fiction winner (Very slight spoiler: a character in the book also wins the Pulitzer prize for his own book). I was also surprised that the book is consistently reviewed by professional publications as “hilarious”. I think it has its funny moments, and you can certainly imagine Less to be a character who could unintentionally make you laugh, but I did not find any laugh-out-loud moments. (To be fair, I don’t often laugh at movies or sitcoms either, at least not out loud). I was relieved to discover, via the reviews, that the everyday reader (ie someone like me) did not find the book hilarious either. But it is poignant, and witty, and wonderful.

I don’t necessarily recommend it. It’s the type of book that some will enjoy, but many will not. Like I said…it’s gentle. Lots of story, but not too much dialog. I read it over 3 evenings, so it did captivate me. It might do so for you too. I suggest you download a sample chapter to your Kindle, and take it from there.

I do want to say that as I read it my mind kept on going back to Mrs Jackson, my English teacher in high school. I could easily picture this being a set book (except maybe it would have been slightly too homosexual for a very conservative all girls school that prescribed specific granny-style underwear as part of its uniform). The book is clearly dripping with metaphors, and themes, and clever juxtopositions and I could picture Mrs Jackson asking us about the significance of Less’s suits, or the subtle use of suspense and intrigue. The book is, after all, a Pulitzer winner. But I will happily admit that I am relieved that I do not have to actually over analyse the book, and that I could in fact just enjoy it. But if you enjoy books that are read as much between the lines as through them, you will absolutely love this little masterpiece.

Here are some quotes I highlighted:

He kisses – how can I explain it? Like someone in love. Like he has nothing to lose. Like someone who has just learned a foreign language and can use only the present tense and only the second person. Only now. Only you.

His brain sits in front of the cash register again, charging him for old shames as if he has not paid before.

“I wish I were single.” Less smiles bitterly at the subjunctive, but does not move his arm. “I’m sure you don’t. Otherwise you would be.”

It would be futile, as inconceivable, as pointing at the sky and saying, “That one, that star, there.”

You can buy the book from Amazon as an e-book, for about $5.

Stay safe, stay healthy

Eve Dmochowska

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