38 pages 1 hour read

Andrew Sean Greer


Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2017

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Summary and Study Guide


Written by Andrew Sean Greer and published in 2017, Less is a satirical comedy novel. It portrays the journey of Arthur Less, who after a difficult breakup plots a round-the-world trip to better understand himself. It won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Plot Summary

Approaching 50, Arthur Less sits in a hotel lobby waiting to be picked up for a literary event. He is a writer and will be interviewing another writer, albeit a sci-fi author whose fame far exceeds his own. The event is the first step on a round-the-world trip organized by Less to avoid attending the wedding of his former lover Freddy, whom he dated for 15 years. He had searched New York for a suitable prop for his interview, eventually finding a cosmonaut’s helmet in a gay bar. His time in the city prompts him to reflect on his relationship with Freddy and a relationship before that with Robert Brownburn, a renowned poet. Less also learns that his latest book has been passed over for publication. When he arrives at the event, the sci-fi author is vomiting profusely.

Arthur travels to Mexico to participate in a panel discussing Robert’s work with Robert’s ex-wife Marian. Most of the literary festival is conducted in Spanish, however, so Less spends his time being shown around the city by a local man named Arturo. They tour marketplaces and ancient ruins. Before the talk, Marian cancels. Less remembers meeting her and Robert in 1987 on a beach, shortly before he and Robert began an affair. Arthur flies to Italy, where his third novel (translated into Italian) is on the shortlist for a prize he knows he will not win. He stays in a lavish hotel and meets the finalists, accidently revealing to the winner that he has won. As the ceremony drags on, Less worries about the quality of his work. He is snapped out of his reminisces by the news that he has, in fact, won first prize.

Next, Less travels to Germany to teach a short writing course. He believes he can speak German but struggles with the language, often making mistakes. On his first night he meets a young man named Bastian, and the two begin a relationship. Less spends five weeks teaching and being with Bastian, which distracts him from Freddy’s upcoming wedding. Around him, people fall sick. One night he takes a pill with Bastian and stays up all night dancing. Less leaves Bastian behind and journeys to Morocco. Before reaching Morocco, an overbooked flight gives Less a few hours at his stopover in Paris. He phones a friend and is invited to a dinner party, where he meets a Spanish man named Javier. The two spend the night talking; Javier is in a loveless marriage and, at the end of the night, he kisses Less. Less leaves the party for the airport and boards his flight to Marrakesh, wondering whether he should have stayed with Javier.

In Morocco Less joins a birthday party, which involves a journey through the desert on camels. The birthday belongs to Zohra, who turns 50 a day before Less. This is the first time Less has met her and, after a debauched first night, the other guests begin to fall ill. Eventually only Zohra and Less remain. They are taken to a Swiss resort in the Atlas Mountains when a sandstorm makes their journey through the desert impossible. There, Zohra gets too drunk, and Less spends the start of his 50th birthday with the tour guide, Mohammed. Next, Less travels to India for a writers’ retreat at a hotel owned by Freddy’s adoptive father Carlos. He arrives to find that it is a Christian retreat and that it is too loud and bothersome a place to get any writing done. During a power cut, he stands on a nail and is taken to hospital. The next day Carlos arrives and takes Less to an unopened hotel. The new hotel is lavish, quiet, and boring. Less successfully works on his novel. On the last night he and Carlos drink on an island, and Carlos tells Less that he has the best life of anyone he knows.

Less travels to Japan to review the local food for an article. He loses his luggage en route and is too early to see the cherry blossoms. Before he can begin his reviews, he hears that Robert has had a stroke. He calls Robert and they talk; Robert insists that he stay in Japan, and Less realizes that he truly loved Freddy. After the call Less resumes his restaurant reviews and gets locked in a dining room in the final restaurant. In Tahiti, Freddy wakes up on his honeymoon and realizes that he has made a terrible mistake. Less travels back to San Francisco, and Freddy is there to meet him.