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What Belongs to You: A Novel Paperback – December 20, 2016
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"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
"In an age of the sentence fetish, Greenwell thinks and writes, as Woolf or Sebald do, in larger units of comprehension....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
"The best first novel I've read in a generation."―Andrew Solomon, The Guardian (Best Books of the Year)
“What Belongs to You whispers like an incantation of desire....In Greenwell’s poetic sentences, emotional fearlessness is mated with extraordinary sensitivity to the tremors of regret.”―Ron Charles, The Washington Post
"What Belongs to You is the most stirring, understated book I read this year. Greenwell’s voice is measured, built on careful observations and quiet gestures. He kinda writes like Virginia Woolf, actually."―GQ (Best Books of the Year)
“Exquisite...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
"In Garth Greenwell's incandescent first novel, What Belongs to You, an old tale is made new and made punishing....There's suppleness and mastery in his voice. He seems to have an inborn ability to cast a spell....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 tale of sexual obsession set to be a classic...An astonishing debut novel...What Belongs to You stands naturally alongside the great works of compromised sexual obsession such as Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice [and] Nabokov’s Lolita....What Belongs to You is an essential work of our time.”―Daily Telegraph (London)
“Full of insight and an arresting resistance to moral certainty...[Greenwell] imbues his prose with a bewitching combination of ethereal somnolence, luminosity, and brutal rumination....This command of form can also be felt in the larger structures of the novel: in the rhythm and tone of its paragraphs, and in the cumulative music of the book as a whole.”―Matthew Adams, The Times Literary Supplement
“[What Belongs to You] is outstanding in just about every way a novel could be.”―Drew Nellins Smith, Los Angeles Times
“Elegant...[Greenwell] describes with sensuous and often unflattering precision the union of shame and desire....beautifully wrought.”―Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
"Exquisite...Stylistically, Greenwell owes more to Sebald than to Nabokov....One of the great pleasures of his prose is how profoundly thoughtful it is, even when considering physical needs and passions. This is emotion recollected in tranquillity, or rather in melancholy. There is an almost visceral disjuncture between places and actions that are grubby, even squalid, and the delicacy of the lens through which they’re seen. Yet the effect, paradoxically, is one of almost pure emotion."―Damon Galgut, The Nation
"I had thought of Hollinghurst as I read What Belongs to You, Greenwell's astonishingly assured debut novel...[The] similarity lies in their ability to blend a lyrical prose―the prose of longing, missed connections, grasped pleasures―with an almost uncanny depth of observation....[The] middle section [is] a masterful study in alienation and escape...It is perhaps too soon to say precisely what Greenwell's own fictional territory will look like―but even this early on, the landscape looks too riveting to miss."―Alex Clark, The Guardian
"Daringly and convincingly composed, it’s a book about desire’s complexity, the painful intensity of youth and a commitment to careful seeing as a path to artistic revelation."―Minnesota Star Tribune
“This masterfully told story seems certain to find a permanent place on the shelf of modern American classics."―Jayne Moore Waldrop, The Courier-Journal
"With his debut novel, What Belongs to You, Garth Greenwell works in traditions forged by queer novelists both past and present....A major achievement."―Steven Cordoba, Lambda Literary Review
“The strength of this slim book is the vibrant, heartbreaking character Mr. Greenwell creates in Mitko: object of the unnamed narrator’s desire, fear, obsession and, ultimately, pity....Mr. Greenwell offers a tender portrait of the longing for connection and acceptance that inhabits us all.”―The Economist
"Garth Greenwell's What Belongs to You is the Great Gay Novel for our times....an astonishing debut."―Jeffrey Zuckerman, The New Republic
"Feelings of shame, humiliation, and embarrassment have rarely been as vividly described as they are in Garth Greenwell’s debut....subversively exciting...it says things that need to be said."―Dan Callahan, Brooklyn Magazine
“If you care about gay culture and/or good writing, you need to read Garth Greenwell’s debut, What Belongs to You.”―Rich Juzwiak, Gawker
“Graceful and fearless...a haunting work.”―Vanity Fair
"The various settings and transactions involved are described with a detached, carefully styled literary brutalism that feels very of the moment; however, the emotional geography of the story could have come straight from Proust....By the end of this short, intense novel it becomes clear that the collision between our hard-won new capacity for frankness and a deep-rooted sense of archaic guilt and grief is precisely Greenwell's subject."―Neil Bartlett, The Guardian
"A novel that can be called truly great....Plumbing the depths of sexuality and psychology, What Belongs to You is lingering and haunting."―Meredith Turits, ELLE.com
"An uncommonly sensitive, intelligent and poignant novel."―The Sunday Times
"Garth Greenwell's first novel is gilded with the kind of praise that debut writers might never dare to imagine for themselves....The praise is earned....Every utterance seems imbued with thought that is deep and beautiful in its clarity."―Arifa Akbar, Independent (London)
"Lushly written...Mitko is a singular creation: proud, violent, tender, pitiable and, in the end, unforgettable."―Tom Beer, Newsday
"We are given access to an interior radiance that's blazing and singular, and has much to say about language, about class, about heritage, about desire, about deceit....You know a book has its grip on you if the world within it is so rich, so exquisitely tense, that you resent the real one for keeping you from it."―Christopher Frizzelle, The Stranger
"Equal parts sexy and painful (and more often than not blurring the lines between the two), the book dives deep into matters of cultural differences, shame, illness, and human relationships."―Anna Fitzpatrick, NYLON
“There is so much to praise in What Belongs to You....Let us not view this as merely a great gay novel, though it is one. Let us include What Belongs to You among great novels period, novels of consciousness as diverse as Austerlitz and As I Lay Dying. That is where it belongs.”―Micah Stack, Fiction Advocate
“Right from its heady, lusty outset, Garth Greenwell's ravishing debut novel, What Belongs to You, whirls into a storm both erotically and psychologically charged....What Belongs to You is as deliciously unpredictable as the object of the narrator's affection. At once tense, introspective, vexing and erotic, it easily entwines itself with a willing reader, and lingers.”―Dave Wheeler, Shelf Awareness
“At just about two hundred pages, What Belongs to You feels at once expansive and instantaneous, and its lyrical use of time is one of its most striking and immersive elements. In any given section, every moment of the book is present....the novel recalls works like Rachel Cusk’s Outline, Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, and Teju Cole’s Open City; and, of course, it descends stylistically from Sebald....What Belongs to You is a haunting, gorgeous, and fierce debut, capturing desire in every sentence―holding the space of what we long for and what can never truly be ours.”―Alex Madison, The Rumpus
"A meticulous stylist...Greenwell's lines tease and tear at the soul."―The Millions, (Most Anticipated preview)
"This is a luminous, important, wonderful book that came out in 2016! 2016 has been bad enough, people. Don’t forget that it gave us this book."―Emily Temple, LitHub
“I was beginning to think the literary world had given up on sincerity. Too often these days, love, desire, lust, and obsession are treated with eye-rolls of cynicism or comedy. The fallen stock in genuine emotion makes Garth Greenwell’s debut novel, What Belongs to You, that much more of a triumph....Greenwell’s gorgeous, roaming prose untangles questions of transaction, identity, cruelty, and just how much of knowing a stranger is willful invention. Along the way, certain observations...strike so deep, they bleed.”―Christopher Bollen, Interview
“[What Belongs to You is] the first great novel of 2016....The book is brilliantly structured....Greenwell’s ability to parse the complex emotional push-and-pull between the two men is incredible....His images are spot-on....And in Mitko, Greenwell has created one of the best characters in recent years....Greenwell is a great writer. I’ll be reading whatever he writes next.”―Gabe Habash, Publishers Weekly (Staff Pick)
“I don't usually like to say these things, but Garth Greenwell is a remarkable new talent.”―Amie Barrodale, VICE
“Sexually frank, deeply felt, and admirably constructed...This provocative tale rests on the theme―to which we can all respond―of the human need for possession.”―Brad Hooper, Booklist
“There is a sense in which two people with their clothes off in a room bring everything in their lives in with them, but I’ve never before found a writer who is able to convey it as well as Greenwell can, in elegant, formal sentences. He is the new voice I’m most excited about for 2016, the writer whose style feels the most like he’s made up a new way of speaking....The precision of its psychology is almost like nothing I’ve ever read.”―Valerie Stivers, An Anthology of Clouds
“Garth Greenwell takes us deep inside a specific Bulgarian subculture to examine the universal: the disparity between the uninhibited lives we desire and the bearable lives we choose. I began reading What Belongs to You in admiration; I ended in tears. An exquisite debut.”―Jamie Quatro, author of I Want to Show You More
“With What Belongs to You, American literature is richer by one masterpiece.” ―Edmund White, author of Jack Holmes and His Friend
“What Belongs to You is a rich and sensually detailed exploration of love and obsession. A haunting, beautiful novel.”―Rabih Alameddine, author of An Unnecessary Woman
“Garth Greenwell is a unique, and uniquely welcome, voice in American letters....What Belongs to You very much seems to me not only a great novel but the first installment in a great body of work.”―Kevin Brockmeier, author of The Illumination
“I am in awe of this book. So intimate, so honest, so exquisitely crafted, it broke my heart and left me in tears. It showed me a Bulgaria both familiar and entirely novel, rendered with candor and deep affection, and characters whose plight and desires seemed at first foreign yet, before long, so dear. Garth Greenwell has written a marvelous book, an important book―one whose impact is as much artistic as it is cultural. What Belongs to You expands not simply the world of letters but also our collective knowledge of what it means to be human.” ―Miroslav Penkov
About the Author
GARTH GREENWELL is the author of Mitko, which won the 2010 Miami University Press Novella Prize and was a finalist for the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction Award and a Lambda Award. A native of Louisville, Kentucky, he holds graduate degrees from Harvard University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he was an Arts Fellow. His short fiction has appeared in The Paris Review and A Public Space. What Belongs to You is his first novel.
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Top Customer Reviews
There were moments in the book when I had to stop and re-read the sentences because they so perfectly expressed a subtle and, to me anyway, profound insight about any number of things, from the painful intensity of adolescent desire to the exquisite torture of sexual longing for the person you know, from the get go, is going to hurt you big time.
I often read too fast to get where the story is going. But this book deserves serious attention, and the wonderful language and spare but intriguing plot, with its largely Bulgarian setting, made me slow down and give it the attention it so richly deserves.
I'm fairly sure this is a first novel, and the writer is pretty young, but he really knows how to write, and he knows a lot about life particularly about how it can mystify, hurt, and delight, sometimes all at the same time.
One unseasonably warm afternoon in October, our narrator, an American teacher living in Bulgaria, goes to a restroom in Sofia's National Palace of Culture. This is a restroom where men go to have sexual encounters, and he is aware of this, but meeting Mitko, a young hustler, takes him by surprise. He pays Mitko for sex, and finds himself immensely drawn to him, so he returns to that restroom over and over. And although he knows inherently that Mitko is going through the motions with him as he probably does with his other "friends," he still hopes that he might find his way into Mitko's heart.
"...how helpless desire is outside its little theater of heat, how ridiculous it becomes the moment it isn't welcomed, even if that welcome is contrived."
He comes to terms with the fact that while Mitko may enjoy their encounters, ultimately Mitko sees him as a source for money, and there is a fine line between knowing you're being used and fearing you may be harmed as a result. As he tries to decide what to do with Mitko, an urgent message forces him to confront his own childhood, and the mistreatment and veiled disgust with which he was treated once he accepted his sexuality. He also tries to decipher the patterns in his behavior that has led him to the same situations time and time again.
"...always I feel an ambivalence that spurs me first in one direction and then another, a habit that has done much damage."
What Belongs to You is a novel about desire, and the desire to be wanted. It's about the struggle between following your heart and your libido instead of your head, and both the consequences and triumphs that come from doing so. It's also about how the hardest thing to do is reconcile your own issues with self-esteem, and finally realize only you can be responsible for your happiness and satisfaction.
Greenwell's talent is evident from the very first lines of this book, and his poetic use of language and storytelling ability sustains through the book's entirety. I truly cared about the narrator and worried what would become of him, hoping against hope that Greenwell wouldn't abandon the purity of his story for the sensational, and was so pleased he didn't. This is a beautiful, magnificent, deeply felt book, and I felt privileged to read it. I can't wait to see where Greenwell's career takes him—I know I'll be following.