Oh boy – this little book brought me SO much joy. What a happy surprise that a Pulitzer Prize-winning book could be so genuinely funny, lightweight and properly fabulous to read!
I should have known how wonderful it would be when Ann Patchett (my favourite author) had her review featured on the cover: ‘I recommend it with my whole heart.’
So; back to the book. Arthur Less is a failed novelist about to turn 50. A wedding invitation arrives in the post: it is from an ex-boyfriend of nine years, who is engaged to someone else. Arthur can’t say yes – it would be too awkward; and he can’t say no – it would look like defeat. So he begins to accept the invitations on his desk to half-baked literary events around the world.
The book is set up in chapters by the places he visits: Mexico, Italy, Germany, France, Morocco, India and Kyoto, bookended by opening and closing chapters. Each location offers lines so wonderfully witty, I would laugh out loud while reading in bed. If I had dared to drink a cup of tea while reading, I fear I would have sprayed the tea everywhere; the funny little anecdotes sneak up on you so cleverly!
From Kyoto, upon hiring a car to drive to a restaurant: ‘The instructions for getting to the restaurant are as mysterious as a love note or an exchange of spies – meet at the Moon Crossing Bridge – but his faith is fast; he takes the wheel of what basically feels like an enamelled toaster and follows the clear, perfect signs out of Kyoto, toward the hill country. Less is grateful the signs are clear because the GPS, after giving crisp, stern directions on the highway, becomes drunk on its own power outside the city limits, then gives out completely and places Arthur Less in the Sea of Japan.’
But don’t be fooled; while this novel is funny, easy to read and truly pleasurable, it is not just frivolous. Through mishaps and misunderstandings, Less shows the depth of the human heart and teaches us that even if we feel like we are hopeless, pathetic or useless… that is not how others see us.
Reviewed by Celeste