Andrew Sean Greer – Less

Andrew Sean Greer – Less

Arthur and Freddy have spent so many years together, but now, Freddy is going to marry somebody else. This already would be enough, but Arthur’s situation is even worse: he is about to turn fifty, thus, officially old. How to avoid the dreadful wedding and his birthday? The solution is close at hand: he accepts several invitations bringing him first to New York, then Mexico, afterwards across the ocean to Italy, Germany and Morocco before returning home via India and Japan. However, leaving behind your everyday life does not mean that your worries also stay at home. They follow Less around the word as constant companions at his side.

Andrew Sean Greer had been quite successful with his short stories before he started writing novels. His sixth, “Less”, was awarded the 2018 Pulitzer prize for Fiction, after he had already received the California Book Award and the O. Henry Award among others for his works.

It is hard to find words to adequately describe the novel. I simply adored it every minute. First of all, there is this extraordinary protagonist Arthur Less who is, in his own view, so plain, ordinary, normal and uninteresting and yet seems to fascinate everybody he meets, makes them fall in love with him instantly and puts a kind of spell on them they cannot escape. The reader also falls for him at once – albeit I cannot explain why this is exactly the case. It is surely not because he is outstandingly good-looking or especially witty, he seems to have some kind of charisma that attracts people.

Second, the narrator. He seems to be acquainted with Less, even though he merely hints at when and how they met and what their relationship is like. Often he recedes and just tells the story, but now and again, he talks to the reader, comments and readjusts the reader’s perspective. Even though a lot of disasters happen to Less on his journey and despite the fact that the two major loves of his life are lost, his life isn’t too bad.

Watching Less stumble through his journey, his anxiety about ageing – his is 49, not 50! – his being mainly known for having spent years at the side of a successful writer while his own work did only find small recognition – all his little flaws make him even more likeable. His modesty, his shyness – he is not less, but much more. A wonderfully written novel, full of love and compassion.

Hanya Yanagihara – A Little Life

Hanya Yanagihara – A Little Life

Four friends who just have finished college, move to New York to build their lives: Malcolm, a talented architect, JB, a creative artist and painter, Willem, an aspiring actor and Jude, a brilliant lawyer. They all become stars in their field and over the years their friendship lasts and gets closer.  But they cannot fight the ghosts which haunt them from their past. Malcolm and his difficult relationship with his father; Willem and his handicapped brother whom he dearly loved; JB who re-constructed his whole family history – and Jude who has to fight the hardest but cannot escape from what he experienced, what made him the person he is: intelligent, quick-witted, unbeatable in court. Full of self-doubt and hatred, without confidence and desperate to suicidal at home. His self-harming behavior frequently running out of control, the people around him can never give him all the love he desperately needs to survive.

I have never felt that kind of physical pain while reading a book. I have read book about characters with heavy psychological disturbances, suicidal and prone to harming themselves, but never have I felt their pain as deeply as I did while reading this novel. The pain – physical and mental – the protagonist goes through is not just narrated to be read. It creeps into you and makes you feel what he feels. When his past is told, all the molestation he endured and especially the psychological abuse he had to endure and which formed his image of himself – you want to run away, leave the novel behind and hear no more of this. But at the same time the way it is told keeps you reading on and on and on. You always hope for a maybe not happy, but at least positive end, knowing that life does not work in this way and that also the novel, close as it is to a possible reality, might deny you this wish.

Hanya Yanagihara created characters one will hardly forget. This is one of the most impressive novels I have ever read in terms of leaving an imprint on the reader. It portrays the best and the worst of what life has to offer.