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I came across this book as part of a course run by Edinburgh University on how to read novels. Many people dismissed it because of its subject matter. No matter what, no matter how skilfully and poetically written a novel might be, some people will always be prejudiced. The author is a poet, and with virtually every line he writes you can tell this. Don’t let the apparent lack of dialogue or the massively extended paragraphs put you off. This is a story about people so real that you feel by the end that you know them as you know your own family (and maybe better, in that families often conceal secrets from one another). Brilliant book. I bought the paperback and the Kindle version, as I’m studying creative writing as a degree. Really sad that it has come to an end and all I can do to reacquaint myself with the characters is to start reading it all over again.
The formative years of our lives can have a huge impact on how we navigate the extraordinarily chaotic nature of relationships we form as adults. Gareth Greenwell has written a book which captures with astute honestly, the damage that can be done to LGBT people by the negative judgment of family and community. Especially when as young adults they are struggling to accept their sexuality and place in a world, which sees them as different from what’s considered ‘normal’.
Telling the tale of an American lecturer who meets Mitko, a hustler with whom he enters a relationship of sorts, veering from instant sexual attraction to anguished rejection. It’s honest in its depiction of their sexual relationship and though powerfully erotic, this is not eroticism designed to titillate or shock, but a candid look at a relationship born from a need for physical contact.
Both the main characters are deeply flawed and damaged individuals, which makes them fascinating to read about. I found myself swaying from sympathy to deeply felt frustration towards both the American and Mitko, as both take advantage of the other’s weaknesses. Yet at the same time I found it equally effortless to care about them, because they are so damaged.
It’s not full of action, of events, or grand gestures, but is a moving depiction of two men and the bond that connects them. In fact it is a master class in character led storytelling.
What Belongs To You will stay with me for some time to come and is a story I think will stand the test of time. So intricate that the more times it is read, the richer the reading experience will be!
What an amazing first novel! If Greenwell can continue to create emotions, in his future writings, as he has here, I am convinced he will rapidly fall into the Modern Classic Category. This book had me in tears, happy and sad, feeling the emotions of the characters and the play of expressionism to display aspects of the Human Gay Psyche, to which I can relate, and reminisce, with strong poignancy. It also raises Socio-economic, and Cultural differences between the West and Old Soviet Block, to which I can also share experience. This excellent book is a must read.
Which is not to say I found any particular fault with the writing, which truly is impressive for a first novel. However, I didn't altogether warm to the stream-of-consciousness approach, as it sometimes jolted me out of the narrative when I had to double-check what I'd read to see whether what was being described was happening at the time or was still part of the memory or event being recounted. This was particularly the case in the middle section of the book, which comprises one extraordinarily long single paragraph, but also occurred at other points. On the whole though I very much enjoyed the story, recognising much in post-Communism Bulgaria that I see here in Estonia where I live, and indeed in the main character, at least as an adult. The writing style generally is finely crafted, memorable and engaging, although for something billed as being 'powerfully erotic' it does what most novels seem to in shying away from telling it like it is, dressing sex up in euphemism and panning the narrative camera away from anywhere likely to be considered too risque. Not that that diminishes the power of those moments in the prose necessarily, but it does feel strangely prudish in a novel that's otherwise so open and, indeed, in-your-face about the characters and what they do. All told though, very much worth reading.
Short, dense, melancholy. One man's discovery that he doesn't understand much about love, or himself, or how to love, or how to love himself. One of the saddest books I've read in a while despite the eroticism, despite the approximations of affection. It's all very transactionary and paid for. And I get that life was shit growing up, but we make choices about our own lives which we must take responsibility for and I guess, mostly this book made me sad.
This book has had rave reviews in the States and it is a tour de force. Set in Bulgaria, it is the story of a relationship between the young American narrator and young Bulgarian who sells himself for sex. The story is one of obsession, betrayal and tragedy, interwoven with scenes from, and reflections on, the narrator's own troubled childhood. If I don't give it five stars it is because the writing, beautiful as it is, occasionally tries too hard for effect and the weaving of two stories (the narrator's Bulgarian life and his American life) seemed to me slightly contrived: each stood more on its own than together. But it is a book which will repay being re-read and its central character is troubling and haunting.
Sometimes this can be a difficult book to read due to the subject matter, but by the time you've reached the end you're so very glad you did. Really impressive book, emotional and honest. The writing style too effortlessly pulls you along. Really glad I've read this book; its one of those books that stays with you a long time after you've finished reading it.