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'Cleanness is stunning, provocatively revelatory and atmospherically profound. Here is love and sex as art, as pulse, as truth' - Lisa Taddeo, author of Three Women

Sofia, Bulgaria, a landlocked city in southern Europe, stirs with hope and impending upheaval. Soviet buildings crumble, wind scatters sand from the far south, and political protesters flood the streets with song.

In this atmosphere of disquiet, an American teacher navigates a life transformed by the discovery and loss of love. As he prepares to leave the place he's come to call home, he grapples with the intimate encounters that have marked his years abroad, each bearing uncanny reminders of his past. A queer student's confession recalls his own first love, a stranger's seduction devolves into paternal sadism, and a romance with a younger man opens, and heals, old wounds. Each echo reveals startling insights about what it means to seek connection: with those we love, with the places we inhabit, and with our own fugitive selves.

Cleanness revisits and expands the world of Garth Greenwell's beloved debut, What Belongs to You, declared 'an instant classic' by the New York Times Book Review. In exacting, elegant prose, Greenwell transcribes the strange dialects of desire, cementing his stature as one of our most vital living writers.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 240 pages
  • 135 x 216 x 23mm | 360g
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 1509874631
  • 9781509874637
  • 5,977

Review quote

If Henry James were alive in this strange century, if Thomas Mann had been allowed to write raw sex, if Virginia Woolf had slummed it more, if Proust had been born in Kentucky, if they all commingled their blood and brains, we might get something like Garth Greenwell. Cleanness is indescribable, and it is genius. -- Rebecca Makkai, author of The Great Believers I don't know how Garth Greenwell writes such delicate, profane fiction. Reading this book made me want to sit with my emotions and desires; it made me want to be a better writer. -- Carmen Maria Machado, author of Her Body and Other Parties Garth Greenwell's sentences are magical and spellbinding. They breathe, and are alive, in completely unpredictable ways. Words are voyages, says John Donne. Greenwell is a novelist whose art makes a poet stand on his toes -- Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic A novel of devastating honesty and beauty. A gorgeous literary line runs from Death in Venice to Giovanni's Room to A Boy's Own Story to What Belongs to You, and, now, Cleanness, and I will follow it to the last word -- David Ebershoff, author of The Danish Girl and The 19th Wife In Cleanness, I found an end to a loneliness I didn't know - until now - how to describe. Greenwell maps the worlds our language walls off-sex, love, shame and friendship, the foreign and the familiar-and finds the sublime. There are visceral shocks like I've never encountered in print, and they delighted me, again and again. With each plunge we take beneath the surface of life, lost and new worlds appear. This could only be the work of a master -- Alexander Chee, author of How to Write an Autobiographical Novel So rarely do words make comprehensible the inevitability and confusion of desire as Garth Greenwell's writing does. His sensibility is akin to James Baldwin's, and he observes the world with eyes like those of Tolstoy. With shimmering prose and undiluted intensity, Cleanness captures the indefinableness of pain and intimacy, love and alienation, vulnerability and sustainability -- Yiyun Li, author of Where Reasons End Cleanness reaches into the relationship between masculinity and violence with more depth than any book I've read in a very long time, and it does it by elaborating both the tender and brutal means that men who try to love other men employ to survive the violence they inherited and the violence they still possess. It is, in the best sense, a disturbing book for the simple reason that it speaks the truth -- Adam Haslett, author of Imagine Me Gone Garth Greenwell, whose first book is a masterpiece, amazingly has written a second book that is also a masterpiece. The great enterprise that Joyce and Lawrence began-to write with utter literal candor about sex, grounding one's moral life and philosophical insight in what that candor reveals about us-finds fulfillment, a late apotheosis, in Greenwell's work. Cleanness is the act of a master -- Frank Bidart Cleanness is a impressive book: moving, radical, both beautiful and violent, unexpected. Garth Greenwell is a major writer, and his writing provides us tools to affirm ourselves, to exist - to fight -- Edouard Louis, author of The End of Eddy. Garth Greenwell is an intensely beautiful and gorgeous writer. I can think of no contemporary author who brings as much reality and honesty to the description of sex-locating in it the sublime, as well as our deepest degradations, our sweetness, confusion, and rage -- Sheila Heti, author of Motherhood Cleanness is stunning, provocatively revelatory and atmospherically profound. Here is love and sex as art, as pulse, as truth. -- Lisa Taddeo, author of Three Women An unbearably wonderful, eloquently sexual, thoughtful, emotional delight of a novel - Garth Greenwell writes like no one else -- Eimear McBride Greenwell may be the finest writer of sex currently at work. He is certainly the most exhilarating . . . If the book is imagined as a body, then cleanness - a total lack of shame in putting sexual passion on the page - is what it achieves in these refreshing depictions. In one brilliant passage, Greenwell even redeems pornographic language itself . . . a glorious, affirmative vision. -- Michael LaPointe * TLS *
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About Garth Greenwell

Garth Greenwell is a graduate of the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop, where he was an Arts Fellow. His novella Mitko won the 2010 Miami University Press Novella Prize and was a finalist for the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction and a Lambda Literary Award.
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Rating details

1,757 ratings
4 out of 5 stars
5 36% (626)
4 38% (659)
3 20% (353)
2 6% (97)
1 1% (22)
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