This Pulitzer prize winning book for 2018 was quite a surprise.
It’s about a failed writer called Arthur Less who receives a wedding invitation from his ex-lover, Freddy. To add to his woes, he’s about to turn fifty, lamenting his old age and the way his life has turned out. Instead of facing his problems, he runs away by travelling the world. Along the way he picks up an award in Italy, teaches in Berlin, rewrites the manuscript his publisher turned down and enjoys a fling or two.
Some failed writer was my immediate thought!
Poor old Arthur Less is a bit hopeless in the love department, a bit clueless about life and how he fits into the world. It makes for some amusing times, although for me, it’s not laugh- out loud funny, yet for others it may be.
“Perhaps Less, alone, is kidding. Here, looking at his clothes – black jeans for New York, khaki for Mexico, blue suit for Italy, down for Germany, linen for India – costume after costume. Each one is a joke, and the joke is on him: Less the gentleman, Less the author, Less the tourist, Less the hipster, Less the colonialist. Where is the real Less? Less the young man terrified of love? The dead-serious Less of twenty-five years ago? Well, he had not packed him at all. After all these years, Less doesn’t even know where he’s stored.”
The writing is magnificent with descriptions of place so intricate and long in sentence that you feel you’re right there in the thick of it.
“It’s nothing like he expected, the sun flirting with him among the trees and houses; the driver speeding along a crumbling road alongside which trash was piled as if washed there; the endless series of shops, as if made from one continuous concrete barrier, painted at intervals with different signs advertising chickens and medicine, coffins and telephones, pet fish and cigarettes, hot tea and ‘homely’ food, …”
I confess to feeling a bit ho hum about this book at first and it seemed like a travel log reminiscent of Eat, Pray, Love – gasp – except the themes of self-doubt, lost love and age are central. I wondered where it was going and as I continued on my reading journey, Arthur Less grew on me, bit by bit. The end brought it all together, the twist, revelation, call it what you will, was fantastic and filled me with love for this book.