‘Less‘ by Andrew Sean Greer is a comic story of an eponymous protagonist who suffers from anxiety and self-esteem issues which are the main themes in ‘Less.’ He is a not-so-successful novelist who only gets invited to obscure literary events. When his lover of nine years sends him a wedding invitation through the mail, he decides it is better to attend every single obscure literary event he has been invited to than to accept the wedding invitation.
”Spoiler-Free” Summary of Less
Arthur Less is a forty-nine-year-old writer whose lover Freddy is about to get married to someone else. Technically, he is not supposed to feel heartbroken because although they were lovers for nine years, they both agreed that there would be no strings attached, just casual sex and friendship. Yet, Less feels heartbroken. Also, he does not know how to attend the wedding and be the object of everyone’s pity or just decline and come off as defeated.
So to avert an awkward situation, he accepts invitations to literary events in several locations across the world. They are invitations he typically would not have accepted but accepts them this time because it would be a plausible reason to decline the wedding invitation with some dignity.
And so, weeks before Freddy’s wedding, Less sets off on a journey from San Francisco to New York City to interview a more successful writer. And from there, he would cross the border of the United States into Mexico City for a literary festival; Italy for a prize ceremony; Germany to teach a short course; France for a little detour; Morocco for his fiftieth birthday; India for a retreat; and Japan to write about the Japanese traditional cuisine. Each of those trips has several embarrassing moments and funny mishaps.
Yet, in the end, Less realizes that it is impossible to escape his heart’s yearning even with trots across the globe and a revolution around the sun.
Complete Plot Summary of Less
Warning: This article contains important details and spoilers
Chapter One: Less At First
The novel begins with a chapter titled ‘’Less At First’’ where we see the protagonist Arthur Less, well dressed and waiting at a hotel lobby for an escort that would take him to the venue of an event where he has to interview a successful science-fiction writer. His appointment is by seven o’clock, so he is relaxed at first as the grandfather clock in the lobby says half past six.
All the while, the escort, a young Japanese woman who has never seen Arthur Less before and believes he is a woman, is in the lobby asking random people if they are Miss Arthur. Arthur Less is too wrapped up in his thoughts to notice the frantic efforts of the escort, and the escort is so certain that Arthur Less is a woman that she does not bother to approach Arthur Less.
Arthur Less later snaps out of his reverie when a clock outside the hotel chimes seven times. He begins to ask around and eventually meets the escort. They arrive at the venue of the event some minutes late and find the writer to be interviewed sick from food poisoning.
Then the narrator gives readers some backstory about Arthur Less. Arthur Less (simply called Less) lives in San Francisco. His trip to New York City is to escape the sticky situation of whether or not to attend a wedding. His lover of nine years, Freddy, is getting married to someone else and he does not want to be the subject of mocking whispers at the wedding or come off as a pitiable, defeated ex-lover if he declines the invitation without a good reason. Therefore, he accepts invitations to several literary events across the world to have a dignified reason to decline the wedding invitation.
Chapter Two: Less Mexican
From New York City, Less flies to Mexico City for a literary conference. He meets a guide called Arturo when he arrives and later meets Professor Harold Van Dervander, the director of the literary conference. Professor Van Dervander turns out to be a self-absorbed and insensitive man who practically tells Arthur Less that he was invited to the conference as an afterthought and that he regards Less as a mediocre writer. Then Less is told at the last moment that he is to be interviewed alongside Marian Brownburn the estranged wife of Less’s ex-lover Robert.
Less reminisces on how he met his ex-lover Robert Brownburn decades ago. Robert is twenty-five years older than Less and was married at the time. Less believes he was the reason for Robert’s failed marriage with Marian and dreads being interviewed along with her. But eventually, Marian Brownburn sends a message that she would miss the interview because she had an accident that broke her hip.
Less is told that prescription drugs are cheaper and easier to acquire in Mexico so he purchases some sleeping pills which he takes on the plane as he flies from Mexico to Italy.
Chapter Three: Less Italian
Less arrives in Italy in a hazy state of consciousness as a result of the pills he took in the flight. At the airport, he sees someone bearing a card that said ”SR. ESS” and joins him. After a short nap in the car, he wakes up in his full consciousness and begins to wonder if the ”SR ESS” sign was a slight misspelling of his name or if he has impersonated another person. After a while of imagining various awkward scenarios of mistaken identity, the chauffeur arrives at their destination and he is relieved to know it was just a case of missing a letter in the spelling of his name.
In Turin, Less meets the other nominees for the award and feels intimidated by them. He is told that the final judges for the award are a group of high school students, and he feels embarrassed that they had seen him naked at the pool the day before.
At the award ceremony, Less mentally tunes out of the place until he is tapped by someone. When his mind returns to the present moment, he realizes that he has been announced as the winner of the prize. But in his modesty, he believes that his book won the prize because of his translator’s brilliance and gives no credit to himself.
Chapter Four: Less German
Less goes to Germany to teach a five-week Literature course. He learned the German language in America and is confident in his proficiency. But in actuality, his German is filled with errors and blunders but he teaches his students and they enjoy his class anyway.
Arthur Less’s teaching assistant Hans takes him out for a drink with friends and Arthur Less meets Bastian, a handsome young man who loves sports, hates literature, and wears his wavy hair in an Afro. Less and Bastian begin an affair and Less nurses a sick Bastian back to health. When Bastian recovers, he encourages Less to grow a beard which he does.
People begin to fall sick and faint all around Less, first Hans, then the doctor at the university clinic, then some of Less’s students, and some people he is meant to give a speech at a nightclub. Less begins to think that he is the reason these people are falling sick, that it must be because he is boring them to death. But he is told that it is because of heat and dehydration.
Bastian tells Less that his German is really bad as they spend their last day together and Less tells Bastian that he is flying straight to Morocco from Germany. But it is a lie because Less is flying to France before going to Morocco.
Chapter Five: Less French
Less is in Paris for a quick stopover before he proceeds to Morocco. But the flight he is meant to join is overbooked, the airline announces monetary compensation for anyone who would agree to reschedule their flight to Morocco, and Arthur Less jumps at the offer. With this, he has many hours to while away in France. Less contacts an old acquaintance that lives in France and the acquaintance invites Less to a party.
At the party, Less realizes that the acquaintance that invited him is actually absent at the party. But Less meets a handsome young man called Javier. They have a long enjoyable conversation and connect.
Less and Javier realize they have so much in common and also feel a chemistry between them. But the one thing they do not have in common is that Javier is clocking fifty as a married man while Less is clocking fifty single. At the end of their long night together, they depart with bittersweet feelings as Less leaves to catch his flight to Morocco.
Chapter Six: Less Moroccan
Less meets an old friend called Lewis in Morocco. They embark on their tour of Morocco alongside Lewis’s old friend Zohra and other tourists.
Less plans to be in Morocco for his fiftieth birthday and Zohra’s birthday is a day before his. A sandstorm interrupts their tour and they are stuck in desert camps. Lewis gives Less the shocking news that his marriage of twenty years is ending in a divorce but that he is happy.
All the other tourists including Lewis fall sick along the way except for Zohra and Less. Zohra and Less continue the tour, hoping to keep each other company on each of their birthdays. On Zohra’s birthday, she rants about how her lover of eight years left her for someone else, gets drunk, and passes out. Eventually, Less is left to spend part of his fiftieth birthday with their tour guide and the rest of it alone.
Chapter Seven: Less Indian
Arthur Less flies to India where he is checked into a resort. But he does not enjoy privacy or quiet as locals often flood around where he lives for their picnics. When he asks his host about this, the host informs him that the place is a Christian retreat center and that it is a place where many of the Christians in the town feel safe.
Arthur Less takes his torn suit to a local tailor for mending when he cannot find his sewing kit. The tailor tells Less to return for the suit the following day. He gets a shave and a haircut and goes back to the resort. The following day Less forgets about the suit until late in the night when there is a power outage. On remembering his suit, Less darts for his room in the darkness and accidentally steps on his sewing kit and a needle pierces the sole of his foot.
He is taken to a hospital and the needle is extracted. Freddy’s father Carlos visits Less at the hospital in India. Carlos asks if Less has heard from Freddy to which Less replies in the negative. Then Carlos changes the subject and asks Less to sell all the letters and correspondence he shared with Robert Brownburn. Carlos also has a touching conversation with Less where he tells Less that he envies Less.
Less senses fear in Carlos despite Carlos’s attempt at sounding light-hearted. But he does not understand why Carlos would be afraid and so does not pursue the subject further.
Chapter Eight: Less At Last
Less travels to Japan where he is meant to write about Japanese cuisine. He loses his luggage on this particular trip and is promised that it will be sent across to him if found.
Arthur Less checks into a hotel is told that for the writing, he would be trying out food from three different restaurants. He tries food from the first restaurant, and the next, both of which serve him the same menu.
He gets a message from Marian Brownburn informing him that Robert had suffered a stroke. Less contacts Marian immediately and they schedule a video call. On the video call, Less speaks with the frail Robert. He offers to return to the United States immediately to see Robert but both Robert and Marian insist that Less must finish his business in Japan before coming to see them.
On getting to the last restaurant, Less realizes that the three restaurants served him identical menus, which will not help his writing about Japanese food so much.
At the last restaurant in Japan, Less is mistakenly locked in alone and is told that the easiest way for him to get out is if he can break the paper wall open with his fist. After his initial refusal and some convincing, Less breaks the walls and feels exhilarated.
Freddy is on honeymoon in Tahiti with his new husband, a mosquito bite wakes him up at dawn and the color of the sky and sea reminds him of Less, at that moment, he begins to cry when he realizes that he is in love with Less.
Freddy who has a spare key to Less’s house goes to Less’s house and waits for him. Less returns from Japan tired and bruised and finds Freddy waiting for him at home.
Who is the narrator in the book Less?
The narrator in the book ‘Less‘ is Freddy Pelu. This is a huge spoiler because one of the elements of intrigue in the novel is in the vague identity of the narrator.
Where does Arthur Less live?
Arthur Less lives in San Francisco. In a home left to him by his old lover Robert Brownburn. The home is located in a place called The Vulcan Steps.
When did Less come out?
‘Less‘ by Andrew Sean Greer was published on July 18, 2017. Its sequel, titled ‘Less is Lost‘ was released on September 20, 2022.