At one point during Less, there is a small digression about the Berlin Wall, which we all know was set as a sort of boundary and torn down. By the end of the book when the title character, Arthur Less, is trapped in a Japanese home/hostel/restaurant, he has to break down a wall in order to escape, which he manages to do despite some hesitation.
Building and breaking walls are many of the themes in Less, most of them invisible walls but with the blocking power and all created by Less himself.
It all starts when Less decides to leave for a world trip in order to block out the imminent marriage of his ex and the other problems that he has been facing; his first proper long term relationship with his aging boyfriend, his rejected novel and the fact that Arthur is going to turn fifty.
Age plays a huge part in this rich novel. Arthur has dated both older and younger men but now as he is approaching fifty he feels that his ‘mojo’ is dying, not to mention that he has not kept with the times as he is skeptical of gay marriage. Throughout the book Arthur keeps on building wall after wall to hide his past mistakes and to shun his thoughts of the future. He hopes that this trip; Mexico – to give a talk at a festival – Italy to pick up a book prize – Germany to give a five week university course -France is a stopover- Morocco to celebrate his birthday – India, to retreat and rewrite his novel and Japan to write an article about their food- will help him just live in the present.
As Less is a comic novel all these different locations are springboards for some farcical situations and some funny things do happen, Less stint in Germany consists of him speaking German badly, in India his colleague thinks a paperclip is a scorpion and the Mexican ceremony is so disorganised you feel sorry for Less.
By the book’s conclusion Less finally realises that in order to achieve life satisfaction he just has to be himself, accept who he is and face his mistakes and this section of the book Greer manages to balance comedy with heartbreaking emotion, I am not a crier but the last few pages nearly had me as a wreck. it’s not that it is sad but that section is so beautifully written and so intelligently plotted that it has to affect the reader in some way or another.
At first I wasn’t quite sure why Less managed to win this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Fiction but now it becomes clear. Less is a smart meditation of life and facing those challenges that life presents.