Less Andrew Sean Greer Aba­cus; $19.99

The Monthly (Australia) - - NOTED - by He­len El­liott

‘Less’, the novel that won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for fic­tion, is the story of Arthur Less and his quest for love. Pulitzer, by the way, is pro­nounced “Pull-it-sir” not “Pew-lit-sir”, one of the many facts to be learnt from this fic­tion. There’s also a neat riff about a lovely man, a long-ago lover of Arthur Less, who was as­ton­ished and thrilled to win the Pulitzer Prize for po­etry. The Pulitzer is spo­ken of with such sweet, sly ado­ra­tion that the judges couldn’t have awarded it to any­one else. It is de­served. Andrew Sean Greer, with five other nov­els be­hind him, has con­jured both pop­u­lar and lit­er­ary suc­cess in a sim­i­lar way to Anne Tyler. They share a cap­ti­vat­ing faux art­less­ness that is in fact im­mense so­phis­ti­ca­tion, the fruit of a pro­found un­der­stand­ing of, and ed­u­ca­tion about, the hu­man con­di­tion. In its wit, com­edy, ease and depth of feel­ing, Less matches Tom Rach­man’s The Ital­ian Teacher. Do th­ese nov­els sig­nal an emerg­ing genre? Of en­dear­ing and evolved male char­ac­ters who are un­fail­ingly cour­te­ous, ter­ri­fied they are bor­ing oth­ers when they speak, and un­selfishly in­ter­ested in ev­ery­thing about other peo­ple? Amen. Less is about to turn 50. He still looks young but frets about pos­si­bly be­ing the only gay man in his­tory to grow old, and he en­joys real suc­cess as a writer, de­spite be­liev­ing that he is medi­ocre and will never achieve a Pull-it-sir Prize. (Yes, it is also a very suc­cess­ful smutty joke.) Less’s pub­lisher has just re­jected his lat­est novel (too sad) but what is most un­bear­able in his life is an in­vi­ta­tion to the mar­riage of Freddy, his re­cent lover of nine years. Their break-up was af­fa­ble but sor­row­ful. Less could not be­lieve that a man 14 years younger could re­ally want to love him for­ever, and ig­nored all the signs that Freddy did in­deed want ex­actly this. Freddy would cer­tainly have set­tled for Less. So Less de­cides to clear out of Cal­i­for­nia for the months be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter the wed­ding. To do this he ac­cepts ev­ery in­vi­ta­tion that falls into his hands and em­barks in a race across the world, run­ning from love, run­ning to love. Eat, Pray, Love with­out the earnest­ness or the mantras. He be­gins in New York, where he is to chair an “In Con­ver­sa­tion” with a wildly fa­mous spec­u­la­tive fic­tion writer. Then he is off to Mex­ico, Italy (he gets a prize cho­sen by high school stu­dents), Ger­many, France, Ja­pan, Morocco and In­dia. This is a lovely novel. A se­ries of tiny bombs of laugh­ter and sen­ti­ment and wis­dom car­ried by a fig­ure you would like to know. De­spite all the irony about lit­er­ary folk and lit­er­ary prizes in Less, this time the judges got it right. M

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