Andrew Sean Greer
My rating: 4.8 of 5 stars
The gentle little tale recounting the journey of Arthur Less has turned out to be one of the most surprising and enjoyable reads of the year for me by far and away. I am going to try to review it as best I can but it will be a bit of a challenge without giving much detail in my humble opinion.
This book is a simple and easy story that follows the titular character as he tries to run away from his potential heartache and sadness as he approaches his 50th year and is faced with the prospect of a love of his life getting married to someone else – the solution? Accept a plethora of engagements around the world that he would ordinarily never do and avoid the latter and face the former with the help of alien lands and distracting adventure. To top it all off, he is dejected further still as his latest book has been rejected by his publisher and as part of his journey, he hopes to rewrite it.
Now my impression was perhaps something a bit overly comedic or overly dramatic or perhaps even a bit “Eat-Pray-Love-ish” in nature. This was a bit of all yet none of them. Our hero is a simple man who likes to enjoy his life and simple routines and has somewhat coasted through life with moderate success in his writing career, surrounded by giants in the creative fields in whose glory he has basked, with no jealousy or angst but simply admiration and awe.
It is an interesting book because at its core, it is about an utterly average man. But what is interesting is that he was (at least for me) at a level, a painfully relatable character. As we read, we learn more and more of his life, his character and we feel the familiar idea that perhaps he could have done more, been more in his life, of his having more potential than he realised. There are messages I think about seeing ourselves not just through our own eyes, but through the eyes of others and trying to analyse what it is they are seeing. To see our strengths and weaknesses, our joys and losses and our successes and failings not just through our own eyes – to appreciate breezing through life but to stop and think about what and why and learn as we march forward with time.
Arthur has been going through life in what is described often as “the Less-ian way” but he is faced with questions and situations that make him both appreciate himself, his life and his choices more and to ponder them more deeply.
I want so badly to expand and talk about his experiences in the book!
To talk about his time traveling from San Francisco to literary festivals in New York to getting an unexpected award in Mexico City. From touristing in Turin to participating in a seminar in Berlin. From hob-nobbing in Paris to bringing in his 50th Birthday crossing the Sahara in Morocco to finally reaching a writers retreat in Kerala until he ends his travels in Japan as a food critic who knows nothing of the food he is critiquing. It is hard to give more detail than this without spoiling the journey – suffice to say that it is filled with moments of gentle humour and insight, twinges of melancholy and pathos and the experience of coming to terms with who and what you are while discovering fragments of things about yourself you had never thought of and facing the latter half of your life as you age.
It is an unusual book that is at no time preachy or pedantic. It does not try and impart grand lessons or paint a journey of spiritual awakening and love, passion or drama or any such thing – it is a tale all the more poignant I think, inspite of and in part because of its simplicity and mild nature. It feels real, less (heh!) like something out of a movie or story and more like something normal person in his position might go through. It is a journey I was glad to have read and been a part of and one I would absolutely recommend as a good read.
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