Less: a satirical journey of rediscovery
By Aditya Verma
The book’s protagonist is an old Gay man who lives a solitary life in San Francisco. He is an intelligent but failed author who tries to act anything but. Paradoxically, at least to his existence, he seems to actively seek companionship and remains high handed in his dealings with the world at large. The book seems to skip between the present and the past as the present stirs his memories of loving and being loved by 2 very different people, one a famous poet and the other the son of a bitter rival. The author, who won the Pulitzer Prize for this work, has Arthur Less, the protagonist, go on a lengthy world tour as an excuse to escape his latest love, who is marrying another man. He is then shocked into changing for the better. As The Guardian suggests “Greer’s Pulitzer-winning satirical novel tracks a lovelorn writer on a cathartic voyage of self-discovery.”
The author shows different sides of Arthur, a reflection of Andrew himself. The author is gay, has a twin brother and he is only two years younger than the protagonist. The book seems to be autobiographical; the author tries to look at himself from his seemingly ‘perfect’ twin brother’s perspective, who is an identical twin, the difference being their sexuality.
The twin is personified in the form of Freddy Pelu, his rival’s son, and his former lover, who narrates Arthur’s adventures. Freddy, like the author’s twin, is more accepted and celebrated than Less, even though his profession as a schoolteacher gives him less opportunity to be. Yet, Less is reminded of him wherever he goes. A detail, he is unhappy about but eventually comes to terms with. As a New York Times Review of this book states, “Arthur finds himself in a sort of authorial Sargasso Sea” as he is too old to be fresh and too young to be rediscovered. In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, the author admits that he wrote it for himself and the book has many parallels with his life in the real world, such as his house in San Francisco is the same as the protagonist.
Throughout the book, Arthur Less is retrospective; he is dismissive of his identity but acutely aware of it wherever he goes, living in a dual reality. One where he is what he sees himself as and another, who he is. He goes through great pains to project the first reality in his desire to be famous. wherever he goes, he goes through great pains to project that. If that fails, he becomes embarrassed and remembers an embarrassing situation involving either Freddy or Robert. Arthur seems to be a melancholic man as we begin to read. But changes into a funny, humorous, humble, and peaceful person as he reaches Berlin and Marrakech. He escapes to prevent this regret, but the memories that the trip brings with it can be associated with regret and melancholy, or they remind him of happier times, either with Robert or with Freddy and help in changing his outlook on life.
His entire demeanour changes, Arthur is now an overconfident, more polite, and happy person, who makes a lot of mistakes while speaking less than fluent German, while pretending to fluent. In an attempt to weed out students who were not from the Global Linguistics and Literature Department of the Liberated University of Berlin, he goes on to declare, “And now, I am sorry, I must kill most of you". An endeavour after which thirty students remained in the class. As the book progresses in its ragtag and back and forth manner, he is self-aware and then he is not, reading his second-last novel to a crowd in a night club in Berlin, he realizes with a start that “he is boring people to death” and how kind his hosts had been nodding through his bad pronunciations of a language that he is supposedly fluent in and yet he speaks it like a child as he confesses to an event organiser at the Spy Club. He realizes that he is running away from his lover’s wedding and ultimately his life. A short-lived realization, as he goes on to Paris from Berlin.
Arthur is a bit of a narcissistic person; He is particular about his age and his appearance and his beliefs. He is annoyed at his German publisher who gets his age wrong, fifty instead of forty-nine, even though his birthday is about a month away. He is happy when he is informed that he looks much younger than forty and that “all the girls in the office had a crush on him”. At the Spy club he realizes that he is not actually what he thinks himself to be, this realization happens at the same time as Freddy getting married to someone else which is the trigger to the worst moment of his realisation. He begins to realize that running away was not the solution to his heartbreak or them remaining together. He realizes that he needs to get over Freddy, although he does not want to talk about it and realize his folly in attempting to be famous.
Until Arthur is in Germany, we see a pretentious, scared, arrogant man who is resistant to change is running from his problem and his embarrassment as a former long term lover of a now-married man with whom he had lived a domesticated life. He changes, he is still scared but lovers in Paris, where he had a fourteen-hour layover, and Berlin as well the kindness shown to him by German students are the final triggers to his change. His next novel is rejected because of its poignancy and wistfulness, he realizes that he needs to change that and does. He admits to his Moroccan tour guide, “I am fear of the old, I am fear of the lonely.”, on the eve of his birthday.
The protagonist in his latest novel, the one that got rejected by his publishers, is an old gay man called Swift. A man that reflects the way Less behaves before his startling revelations in Berlin and Paris. Arthur realizes that he needs to change and so does his character, he admits it to himself, calling Swift “The one nobody feels bad for”. He realizes that Swift is, many ways, a reflection of his regret, his fear, and his sadness for the loves he has lost, and he could not recover from. Swift is “tedious, self-centred, pitiable, laughable”. Like Arthur, swift changes for the better in his next destination, India.
In the Book we see the journey of one man told from the regretful lens of another’s, Freddy is the narrator of Arthur’s adventures across the few months between the interview in New York to Dining in Osaka. The book captures the struggles of a failing man, his struggles with being identified as well as remaining anonymous. It portrays a journey of self-realization both by the Narrator of the tale as well as the protagonist. Who is described as “He was tall, with thinning blond hair and the profile of an English lord".
The author got the inspiration to write about the transformation that Less undergoes while on his adventures when he decides to change the novel to a more positive outcome for Swift, is reminiscent of the author’s own decision to write this book. The books, that the author wrote before this were stark and serious, he decided to change this book to a more positive outlook. In one prize-winning book, Greer satirizes the wounded vanity of the members of the worldwide literary community and exposes issues of that his community faces as they go about their lives, and portrays a different outlook in life which he goes through or thinks others see him go through as he writes, “It’s a little hard to feel sorry for a guy like that”, Even if he is gay. The book points out that letting go and affecting positive change can lead to great reward, for the author, the perception of his community, his protagonist and love.