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What Belongs to You

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What Belongs to You

Garth Greenwell discusses his book What Belongs to You. (Camera & editing: Nicholas Boyd)

12th September 2016

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On an unseasonably warm autumn day, an American teacher enters a public bathroom beneath Sofia’s National Palace of Culture. There he meets Mitko, a charismatic young hustler, and pays him for sex. He returns to Mitko again and again over the next few months, drawn by hunger and loneliness and risk, and finds himself ensnared in a relationship in which lust leads to mutual predation, and tenderness can transform into violence. As he struggles to reconcile his longing with the anguish it creates, he’s forced to grapple with his own fraught history, the world of his southern childhood where to be queer was to be a pariah. There are unnerving similarities between his past and the foreign country he finds himself in, a country whose geography and griefs he discovers as he learns more of Mitko’s own narrative, his private history of illness, exploitation, and want.

What Belongs to You is a stunning debut novel of desire and its consequences. With lyric intensity and startling eroticism, Garth Greenwell has created an indelible story about the ways in which our pasts and cultures, our scars and shames can shape who we are and determine how we love.

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Praise for What Belongs to You

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"In an age of the sentence fetish, Greenwell thinks and writes, as Woolf or Sebald do, in larger units of comprehension . . . Rhythm, order, music, and lucid expression: there is undeniably a mandarin quality to the way that Greenwell narrows the frame of his inquiry and then perfectly fills this reduced space. But if the novel's formal control has a rare delicacy there is nothing at all hermetic about the story the narrator tells, which has a bitter urgency . . . The novel inhabits conventional motifs in order to renovate them . . . Brilliantly self-aware . . . Greenwell's novel impresses for many reasons, not least of which is how perfectly it fulfills its intentions. But it gains a different power from its uneasy atmosphere of psychic instability, of confession and penitence, of difficult forces acknowledged but barely mastered and beyond the conscious control of even this gifted novelist." ― James Wood, The New Yorker

"In Garth Greenwell's incandescent first novel, What Belongs to You, an old tale is made new and made punishing . . . Mr. Greenwell writes long sentences, pinned at the joints by semicolons, that push forward like confidently searching vines. There's suppleness and mastery in his voice. He seems to have an inborn ability to cast a spell . . . A writer who opens chasms rather than builds substandard bridges . . . A subtle observer of human interactions. He underscores the way expressions of love are nearly always, in part, performance." ― Dwight Garner, The New York Times

"A rich, important debut, an instant classic to be savored by all lovers of serious fiction because of, not despite, its subject: a gay man's endeavor to fathom his own heart." ― Aaron Hamburger, The New York Times Book Review

"Exquisite . . .Risk and desire are the 'coterminous' elements of the book's style as well as its action, terms of engagement Greenwell makes plain from its first page . . . Breathtaking . . . It's hard to tell at times whether the narrator is the innocent abroad or an American abroad among innocents. Greenwell's insight is that the destruction of innocence is a process that never halts." ― Christian Lorentzen, New York Magazine

“[What Belongs to You] is outstanding in just about every way a novel could be.” ― Drew Nellins Smith, Los Angeles Times

 

About the author

Garth Greenwell is a graduate of the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop, where he was an Arts Fellow. His novella Mitko won the Miami University Press Novella Prize and was a finalist for the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction and a Lambda Literary Award. His novel What Belongs to You has been widely acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic.

 

What Belongs to You is distributed by Pan Macmillan

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