Garth Greenwell

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What Belongs to You

book | Fiction | Jan 2016
US & Canada → Farrar, Straus & Giroux Inc (Ed. Mitzi Angel & Christopher Richards)
UK & Comm → Picador Books


Longlisted for the 2016 National Book Awards

Longlisted for the Dublin Literary Award

Named One of the Best Books of the Year by More Than Fifty Publications, including:

The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The New York Times (selected by Dwight Garner), GQ, The Washington Post, Esquire, NPR, Slate, Vulture, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), The Evening Standard (London), The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Miami Herald, The Millions, BuzzFeed, The New Republic (Best Debuts of the Year), Kirkus Reviews, and Publishers Weekly (One of the Ten Best Books of the Year)

Named one of Foyles Paperbacks of the Year

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.


Film Rights


Audio Rights


Claire Nozieres manages the translation rights for What Belongs to You

Translation Rights Sold

Black Flamingo
Chinese Simple
Mainland China
Beijing Imaginist Time Culture
Kustannusosakeyhtio Nemo
Editions Payot & Rivages
Hanser Verlag
Am Oved Publishers
Arnoldo Mondadori Editore
Penguin Random House
Huy Hoang Cultural

The originality and power of Garth Greenwell’s slim novel.

James Wood
the New Yorker

What Belongs to You is a rich, important debut, an instant classic to be savored by all lovers of serious fiction.

Aaron Hamburger
the New York Times Sunday Book Review

Greenwell is, pound for pound, my favorite writer working in the English language right now, and his debut novel, What Belongs to You, is my pick for novel of the decade.

Omar El Akkad
The Millions

What Belongs to You is one of the most fearless and heartbreaking accounts of desire that I can remember reading.

Johanna Thomas-Corr
Evening Standard

What Belongs to You is brutally candid in its dissection of power relations, both familial and political-economic, and Mitko’s portrait is all the more convincing for being essentially two-dimensional... Greenwell’s combination of slick, economical storytelling with emotional depth and subtle, allusive moral acuity makes this a powerful and compelling debut.

Houman Barekat
3:AM Magazine

What Belongs To You is concentrated brilliance, a short novel that packs an emotive and thought provoking punch.

Simon Savidge
Savidge Reads

This is a heart-breaking, important piece of work, which emphasises to us all how much our lives are made (and unmade) by how our bodies collide (or don’t) with the bodies of others.

Andrew McMillan
The Next Review

This debut novel is a superb evocation of that curious state known as love; of knowing, as the title has it, what belongs to you and realising what can never be yours...Greenwell's shimmering novel recounts an age-old story with such toughness and tenderness as to make it seem new: and that is an art in itself. 

RTE Guide Magazine

I agree completely with the emotional intelligence and observation of relationships which I thought was absolutely astonishing. A tour de force... A remarkable novel. 

Christopher Frayling
Saturday Review, BBC Radio 4

An enormously well-controlled book.

Tom Sutcliffe
Saturday Review, BBC Radio 4

It's an intriguing book, and the admiration heaped upon it is fully justified; the writing is beautiful, the story engrossing... What Belongs to You is a very accomplished novel from an exceptionally skilled writer. It brilliantly deconstructs the expat experience, modern sexual mores, and cross-continental cultural divides.


A wonderful book; I was very moved by it.

Lyn Nead
Saturday Review, BBC Radio 4

I was blown away by it... It wears its formal experimentation lightly...The subject matter is beautiful and [Greenwell] is very good at capturing the microclimate of people's emotions as it passes across their faces... A sympathetic account of a lifestyle that's become marginalised. 

Helen Lewis
Saturday Review, BBC Radio 4

The pleasure comes [throughout the novel] from the elaborate shapes of Greenwell’s sentences…. Breathtaking.

Christian Lorentzen
New York

Original...and power[ful]…. 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

Searching for anonymous sex in Bulgaria, a young American strikes up a fraught friendship with a rakish drifter. In these poetic sentences, emotional fearlessness is mated with extraordinary sensitivity to the tremors of regret.

Jennifer Chase
The Washington Post

Garth Greenwell’s enigmatic debut, What Belongs to You, is an acquired taste but that hasn’t stopped me trying to foist it on all my friends. It’s the spellbinding account of an American academic’s intense desire for a rent boy in post-Soviet Bulgaria. Written in limpid prose, it reflects on the anguish of growing up gay with a Republican father in Kentucky. With things as they now are in the US, it couldn’t feel more essential.

Johanna Thomas-Corr
Evening Standard

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

A triumph

Christopher Bollen
Full Review

The first great novel of 2016

Publishers Weekly
Full Review

A meticulous stylist... Greenwell's lines tease and tear at the soul.

The Millions

With What Belongs to You, American literature is richer by one masterpiece. 

Edmund White
Full Review

What Belongs to You is a searching and compassionate meditation on the slipperiness of desire, the impossibility of salvation, and the forces of shame, guilt, and yearning that often accompany love, rendered in language as beautiful and vivid as poetry.

Hanya Yanagihara
Full Review

There’s a particular joy in reading Garth Greenwell, in having that feeling, precious and rare: here is the real thing.

Claire Messud

A slender and achingly beautiful novel full of the gloriously messy pain of unrequited and inappropriate love.


Greenwell's novel is a brave and articulate psychological exploration of lust and desire.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

This is a project of rare discernment and beauty, and it is not to be missed. 

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Full Review

What Belongs to You is a rich and sensually detailed exploration of love and obsession. A haunting, beautiful novel.

Rabih Alameddine

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
Full Review

An exquisite debut.

Jamie Quatro
Full Review

Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs to You is a lyrical contemplation of desire, love and identity, a chronicle of the relationship between the protagonist, a gay American teacher, and a Bulgarian hustler. Written in meditative, generous prose, it is at once formally accomplished and intimate, high-minded but personal, witty but substantive. It’s the best first novel I’ve read in a generation.

Andrew Solomon
The Guardian

Garth Greenwell is a unique, and uniquely welcome, voice in American letters. 

Kevin Brockmeier
Full Review

What Belongs to You speaks of desire and the lives of those who desire with exquisite specificity and power, and will haunt you long after you turn the final page.

Isaac Fitzgerald

For its mastery of tone and its expert drawing together of a number of disparate elements, Greenwell’s narrative feat is utterly remarkable and the final ten pages amount to one of the most moving passages this reviewer has ever read in contemporary fiction.

Paddy Kehoe
RTE Mobile

Garth Greenwell's What Belongs to You appeared in early 2016, and is a short first novel by a young writer; still, it was not easily surpassed by anything that appeared later in the year... It is not just first novelists who will be envious of Greenwell's achievement.

James Wood
The New Yorker

ISO the Next Great Gay Novel: On Garth Greenwell’s ‘What Belongs to You’

The most exacting and visionary reading in contemporary literature of what it means to be gay in America today.

The Millions
Full Review

‘What Belongs to You’ review: An eloquent tale of desire and remorse

Although this is a debut novel, expectations have been running high [and] that promise is fully realized here in the dark magic of these pages.

Ron Charles
The Washington Post
Full Review

An Impossible Promise

[An] exquisite first novel. 

Damon Galgut
The Nation
Full Review

Garth Greenwell: Accessing The Ecstatic

What Belongs To You comes to feel, in the end, like a great enactment of an infatuation, exciting and appalling by turns—a brilliantly observed account of an attempt to make another person entirely yours, to subsume them within your story.

Jonathan Lee
Full Review

Nothing was as stunning this year as the shape and beauty of Greenwell’s sentences. Whether writing about erotic obsession or the way dust passes through afternoon light on a city bus, Greenwell is an artist whose talent lies in portraying experience as a sort of radiance.

Christian Lorentzen

Garth Greenwell’s book has the power and infinite beauty of an ancient tragedy: on every page, passion, obsession, and the struggle for freedom collide with the inevitability of fate and the violence of society. At the same time, it’s a radically contemporary novel, which overwhelmed me as much with its language—rhythmic, incantatory, visceral—as with the way it takes the subjects of memory, escape, desire, and melancholy, and makes them new. What Belongs to You is an essential book. 

Édouard Louis

Beneath the Pain of Exclusion

Garth Greenwell’s writing is alive to the foreign and the unknown; he opens our eyes to worlds we had not realized existed alongside our own.

Jeffrey Zuckerman
New Republic
Full Review

There’s suppleness and mastery in [Greenwell's] voice. He seems to have an inborn ability to cast a spell.

Dwight Garner
The New York Times Book Review
Full Review

What Belongs To You by Garth Greenwell, book review: Repression and rent boys

Garth Greenwell's first novel is gilded with the kind of praise that debut writers might never dare to imagine for themselves. The quotes sprinkle the book cover like a coat of glitter, marking it out for greatness.

Arifa Akbar
The Independent

[An] extraordinary new talent... A huge amount of fans, I'm quite sure, for this fantastic book.

Georgina Godwin
Monocle 24 (Interview)

A truly stunning debut... a masterpiece... A literary star is born

Janice Forsyth
BBC Radio Scotland (Interview)

What Belongs to You is Garth Greenwell's first novel, but it arrives in this country decked out with praise from his native America... When that volume of applause carries across the Atlantic it tends to herald a self-consciously ambitious doorstopper of a book, but What Belongs to You is a refreshingly slim, subdued and contemplative piece of work... Greenwell writes in long, consummately nuanced sentences, strung with insights and soaked in melancholy... What Belongs to You is an uncommonly sensitive, intelligent and poignant novel.

The Sunday Times

Garth Greenwell: ‘Cruising parks need to be written about with much more richness and nuance’

I had thought of Hollinghurst as I read What Belongs to You, Greenwell’s astonishingly assured debut novel, but questioned whether the parallel came to mind because both writers create vivid, enclosed worlds filled with ambiguous and shifting relationships between gay men. In fact, though, the greater 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.

Alex Clark
The Guardian

Garth Greenwell, What Belongs To You: 'Challenging vision of gay life in an unequal world', book review

One of the few novels I've read which feels like it offers an authentic account of what growing up is like for gay people in western societies... Greenwell's novel is at its most affecting when subtly pushing readers to examine their own attitudes and motives... By illuminating the dividing lines in our unequal world, Greenwell's novel challenges us to think about privilege, especially our own... Erotic holding, emotional withholding and the question of who holds power in a relationship are all examined in a work which gripped me all the way to its sad and beautiful ending.

Max Liu
The Independent

I was blown away by [What Belongs to You]

Farhana Gani
Reader's Digest (podcast)

Garth Greenwell’s Exquisite, Humorless New Novel

[An] exquisite first novel.

Christian Lorentzen
Full Review

I read this book when it first emerged and I will keep reading it every year of my life. It is a secular desire bible. It is desire alive.

Lidia Yuknavitch
The Millions

The Best New Books to Inspire Your Wanderlust

A powerful exploration of loneliness and longing, made exquisite by Greenwell’s poetic language.

Claire Luchette
Travel + Leisure
Full Review

I'm inclined to name books that I read during my adolescence or young adulthood, but I read this novel in my mid-30s and found it all the more life-changing. It is ambitious in every part of its being, from the line level to the larger narrative structure, and it depicts the intersection of desire and self-reflection in a way that feels entirely new yet deeply relatable. Garth is one of the great writers of our time.

Rakesh Satyal
Author of No One Can Pronounce My Name

What Belongs to You is an unsparing book which tells a story, I'd like to think, that Virginia Woolf would have liked. [...H]e has written, meticulously, the least comforting love story of recent years. For this he deserves our gratitude.

Il Corriere della Sera