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3.88  ·  Rating details ·  4,384 ratings  ·  674 reviews
A New York Times Notable Book (2020)
A TIME Must-Read Book of 2020
A Washington Post Notable Fiction (2020)
An NPR and Esquire Best Book of 2020
An Electric Lit and Literary Hub Favorite Book of 2020

In the highly anticipated follow-up to his beloved debut, What Belongs to You, Garth Greenwell deepens his exploration of foreignness, obligation, and desire

Sofia, Bulgaria, a lan
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published January 14th 2020 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Hannah No, it doesn't refer to "What belongs to You" too much. Also, "Cleanness" is somewhat like a collection of short stories. …moreNo, it doesn't refer to "What belongs to You" too much. Also, "Cleanness" is somewhat like a collection of short stories. (less)
Jonathan Petro While "Call Me..." covers a love story of two men over the course of a summer, "Cleanness" tells the story of one man and his varying degrees of relat…moreWhile "Call Me..." covers a love story of two men over the course of a summer, "Cleanness" tells the story of one man and his varying degrees of relationships with several different men. Some of these relationships are purely sexual, some are more mentoring relationships and some are romantic. "Cleanness" covers different (not better or worse) emotional territory. (less)

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Average rating 3.88  · 
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 ·  4,384 ratings  ·  674 reviews

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Adam Dalva
Jan 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Update: my review for Guernica

What a book - audacious, innovative, sometimes disturbing, sometimes romantic. It feels like a short story collection but in many ways functions as a novel, or perhaps more like a symphony. The masterful center of CLEANNESS shows 3 vignettes from the lead's (this isn't a spoiler) doomed romance. The 6 non-chronological stories that surround it initially seem disconnected, but are linked, both thematically and structurally. (1 and 6 are about
Jan 16, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2020
a collection of linked short stories diving into the fraught relationship between sex, power, and communication for queer men traumatized by repressive childhoods. across stories an unnamed gay American expat living and teaching English in Bulgaria seeks out humiliating hook-ups, struggles to sustain an LTR, and frets about his adopted nation’s political upheaval. all the stories focus on gay characters’ inability to form lasting bonds and their desire to dole out, or receive, abuse during sex. ...more
Sep 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019-read, usa
I have a hunch that this major release will be polarizing, which only speaks to its poetic power and daring structure - I am deeply impressed by Greenwell's achievement. At the heart, this is a story about a gay American teacher in Sofia, Bulgaria, who wins and loses the heart of a young man from Lisboa - consequently, these events are told in the middle section of the novel, entitled "Loving R.". The first and the last third of the book offer three vignettes each that illustrate the unnamed tea ...more
May 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: queer, owned
“Anything I am you have use for is yours.”

Why not start off this review by saying that Cleanness includes the most intense sex scene I’ve ever read? Cause there are quite a few descriptions of gay intimacy in this novel and they’re all rather...memorable.

Now before we get to the rest of it there’s probably one thing that’s helpful to know: Cleanness is more or less a sequel to Greenwell’s first novel. It has the same narrator and I was told that it apparently helps understand him and his actions
Larry H
Jan 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars.

Poetic and powerful, Cleanness is demonstration of a writer at the top of his game.

In his second novel, which is more a collection of interconnected short stories, Garth Greenwell continues his exploration of sexuality, intimacy, desire, and the connections we make and lose.

In Sofia, Bulgaria, the unnamed narrator, an American teacher, prepares to return home after a number of years abroad. He reflects on encounters and memories which affected him—the confessions of a student about
Ron Charles
Jan 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: guys-wandering
Four years ago, Garth Greenwell published a debut novel about an American teacher who falls in love with a gay hustler in Bulgaria. “What Belongs to You” might have withered unnoticed in the weeds of literary fiction. Its plot was cramped, its setting dank, its characters obscure. But none of that mattered. The book smoldered with lust and regret across pages of hypnotically gorgeous prose. Critics and other readers responded with awe to Greenwell’s unnerving insight into the tangled desires and ...more
Some books are like dreams that vanish from the memory once they're finished. Others are more like physical places: I can call their geography to mind, I feel I could step back into them if I wanted. Garth Greenwell's What Belongs to You, which I read in 2016, fits into the latter category. I've retained a strong impression of the setting, the authorial voice, the general ambience of the book; I liked it a lot at the time, and this sense of gravity has solidified my idea of its greatness. So I w ...more
Jul 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When I first had an inkling as a teenager that I might be gay (heaven forbid), I did the first thing that anybody in such a situation, and in their right mind, would do: I headed to the library. Remember that this was before the internet and Google search, so my hunt for ‘gay literature’ had to begin, paradoxically, with books. That is, the reference section.

One of my most prized possessions in those days was a set of Encyclopaedia Britannica … I wonder how many children were as traumatised as I
Nov 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Cleanness is a sparse and melancholic novel about an American man living in Bulgaria.  His sexual encounters with other men - some of these encounters loving, some purely transactional - mostly take center stage in this story that unfolds across nine vignettes, in which the narrator reflects on the time he's spent living and teaching in Sofia.

Greenwell's linguistic prowess is this book's greatest strength; I think On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is an obvious enough comparison, though they vary
Sep 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
4.5, rounded up.

Those who were entranced (as I was) by Greenwell's first novel What Belongs to You, nominated for the NBA and numerous other book prizes, have reason to celebrate, since his new book is not even really a sequel as much as it is a continuation of that first book. The narrator/protagonist would seem to be identical: that is, a youngish gay American teaching literature and English in Sofia, Bulgaria. It more or less picks up where the previous book ends, and continues the adventures
Elyse  Walters
Mar 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Having been in ‘aw’ from
Garth Greenwell’s book...
“What Belong’s To You”...
I knew I wanted to read this follow up.
His writing is tender, bold, thoughtful, compassionate....
unadulterated truth!
Breathtaking language.

I was on the San Francisco library/ ebook overdrive waitlist for months....
Finally my turn arrived.
I inhaled this book.
It can be read in a few hours....
But the lasting experience should last at least a few years.
Gorgeous writing...., gay sex, intimacy, desire, lonel
May 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: glbt, _own, _fiction
Such expressive and detailed writing! Greenwell's meticulous descriptions work beautifully outdoors walking through cities in Bulgaria and in Italy, as well as in restaurants, relationships, and in the bedroom. Each scene is constantly being updated, yet the story keeps moving.

“Once this was Greek, there are still many Greeks here, they build many little churches we still have, and it was true, everywhere you looked there were tiny chapels, places to pray for fisherman out at sea. There was one
Mar 22, 2020 rated it it was ok
I can’t figure out why Cleanness has been so well-received. Greenwell's writing is sloppy, his reflections on both the gay and expat experiences – even in the most graphic of sex scenes – tedious and banal.

There’s an arrogance to Greenwell's rambling prose; he sees himself as a revealer of great universal truths when in fact his meditations on life are trite and clichéd ("We have an idea that the things we make will last, but they never do, or almost never; we make them and value them for a whil
Dec 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: lgbt
In yet another book that just "gets" it when it comes to queer experiences in 2019, Greenwell's latest book, "Cleanness," is a remarkable take on the darkness - and lightness - of queer being.

Written in much the same ethereal style as his other past works, "Cleanness" follows the narrator as he navigates his time teaching English in economically depressed Bulgaria. With chapters engaged with BDSM themes and chapters engaged with the complications and beauties of gay love and romance, Greenwell's
Darryl Suite
Jan 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
In Cleanness, we follow a gay American teacher, who works abroad in Bulgaria. The crux of the novel centers around our unnamed protagonist’s love affair with R. and their eventual undoing. Now let’s address the elephant in the room: THE SECOND CHAPTER. Let’s talk about that, friends. The second chapter revolves around the complexities of a consensual violent sexual encounter. It’s unabashedly frank, graphic… and thought-provoking. It examines the notion of wanting to be sexually controlled, and ...more
Feb 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
I’d met E. before, a half dozen years prior. Our worlds had collided through mutual friends, a dorm room party, heaping amounts of alcohol, a practical joke gone wrong. Being the butt of said joke, my initial perception of E. was clouded; I found her to be bitchy, cold, cutting. Conversely, she found me obnoxious, self-centered; I could hardly blame her. While a guise masking my own insecurities, I’d elevated my repugnance for reactive purposes, a metaphorical bear-poking. It worked.

As undergra
Mark Ward
Jan 25, 2020 rated it it was ok
*Spoilers throughout*

In 2016, I read a library copy of What Belongs to You and loved it so much, I bought a copy shortly after, and read it again. It was a perfect little novel, really. I know there are people who prefer the novella Mitko (which is an earlier version of the first section of WBTY) but I read WBTY first, and I thought it was all absolutely necessary, perfect even. Beautifully written, it told the story of the unnamed narrator’s relationship – no, experiences – with Mitko, with a
Dec 16, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lgbt
Wow I think I’ve read gay erotica with more plot and character exploration and less sex than this book. My question is what was the point. Except to show how backwards Bulgaria is I suppose.

All Bulgarian architecture is ugly, it's cold, every Bulgarian has ugly crooked teeth, every Bulgarian man he has sex with is a pervert. His Portuguese boyfriend says that our hero likes to live in sad places and this is what Bulgaria is for Garth. It's not a country with a culture, he doesn't care about it.
Jenny (Reading Envy)
An early morning Instagram chat with Hardcoverheartsblog helped me solidify my feelings about this book. Much like Garth Greenwell's last novel, What Belongs to You, which I admit I never finished, the narrator feels like the author sharing stories from his time teaching English in Bulgaria. In a few he is quite young, some are during revolution, and in some he is older (but the narrator is the same.) His (very explicit and often challenging) sexual encounters, relationships, and friendships are ...more
May 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a tough book, in this pandemic year, I could not read it straight through, had to do it a story at a time. But well worth the slowness. The emotional rigor of this book--in the hands of a poet like Greenwell--was breathtaking. A novel in linked stories, Cleanness is "about" about a gay, 30-something American teacher in Bulgaria, his involvement with his students ("Mentor"); his deep, ground-note pull towards chaos and intensity and his own inchoate depths, pain and humiliation and intens ...more
Paris (parisperusing)
Garth Greenwell's Cleanness is an erogenous, esoteric, hurt-so-good of a novel that outlines the poignant encounters of a gay American professor visiting from the south who forges bonds, both sexual and sentimental, with various men while teaching abroad in Sofia, Bulgaria. Although the focal point of the narrative peers from the most private localities of the speaker’s emotions — his clemency for a closeted student; the distress of filthy, fleeting affairs; the betrayals of true love coming to ...more
Jan 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
No surprise over here that Garth Greenwell has written one of the most erotic books I've ever read; what makes this book so essential, for me at least, is the way he smashes taboos of sexuality while exposing how our sexuality is tangled up in the snares of human shame.

*Cleanness* is far from being a downer. In fact, the three middle chapters are about as soul-crushingly honest and tender as you can get. The last lines of each of these chapters rang inside me with a beautiful clamor.

I know I'll
Conor Ahern
Jun 08, 2020 rated it liked it
Kind of a weird structure to this book--we start off with an unsettling BDSM encounter, then move into the majority of the plot--the narrator's relationship with "R," an Azorean beau living an unhappily repressed life with the narrator in the Sofia of probably the early 2000s--and then it ends with a drunken night out with two youths the narrator had taught in the year before he left to return to the United States.

I'm not sure what to make of it, honestly. But it sure was pretty and quite smutty
Ruben Vermeeren
Aug 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
A sensitive, lonely and insecure American gay teacher tries to make the most of life in Bulgaria.

The book is at times tender and romantic, and at times very violent and disturbing (I have to admit I skipped 10 pages of a neverending violent sex scene in the penultimate was just too graphic and didn't stop). But what struck me most was the description of feelings and human interaction: so honest and believable that one has to assume the novel is largely autobiographical.

And that in
Jessica Woodbury
Jan 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
I read this book slowly, taking in just one or two of its 9 vignettes at a time. Some of the stories are slow, meandering, meditative. Others are intense and urgent. Me being me, I have to work a bit at the former and breeze through the latter. Luckily I'd read Greenwell's previous novel and knew that even if it took me a while it would be worth it. And it was.

All that said, what elevated this novel above WHAT BELONGS TO YOU for me personally was its absolutely perfectly written sex scenes. It'
Oct 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
video review:
The experience I just had with this book. 9 chapters, 9 days, I would read one chapter right before bed with some incense lit & Julianna Barwick playing. If you were to ask me what my taste in books is, it's this book.
Roman Clodia
Jul 07, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Greenwell's writing is lucid and as transparent as his title as these mini narratives explore how love is entangled with issues of power, pain, shame, vulnerability. The sex is frequently explicit, even brutal, but it can be tender, too, as when the narrator writes of his love of R., and his loss when their affair comes apart. Set in Sofia, there's a kind of melancholy alienation about the stories reflected in the different languages and the shifting roles and identities of the narrator. Cleanli ...more
Nov 11, 2020 rated it liked it
This is unexpected and I don't even know how to begin. I read Greenwell's debut "What Belongs To You" and I really love it. In "Cleanness", we follow the same main character and his many sexual encounter with different people during his time in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Firstly, the writing is good with the same style like WBTY. I don't know if it's a novel because it reads like a short stories to me, there's a real lot of sex scenes and pretty much 70% of what the book are made up of. There are 3 sectio
Jan 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The author returns to the same setting and similar themes as his previous novel, “What Belongs To You” from 2016. An unnamed narrator, an American writer and English teacher living in Bulgaria, describes encounters and relationships in a country trying to become modern and escape the shadow of its Soviet Past. The novel is broken into three parts, three chapters each. Somewhere between a novel and a collection of short stories, the plot in this book is very thin. What connects this novel is the ...more
Lindsay Loson
Jan 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020-reads, netgalley
Thank you to FSG for this ARC, out January 14th, 2020!

I had been seeing Cleanness making the rounds on some popular bookstagrams for a while, and with all the praise it had been getting knew I also wanted to read it badly. If I hadn't been busy, I could've finished this book in a day; that's how hard it grabs you and doesn't let go. I was immediately entranced by our narrator, and how he is confused by old lovers, disgusted but also enamored by new ones. Greenwell's writing just hooks you fro
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Garth Greenwell is the author of What Belongs to You, which won the British Book Award for Debut of the Year, was longlisted for the National Book Award, and was a finalist for six other awards, including the PEN/Faulkner Award, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice, it was named a Best Book of 2016 by over fifty pub ...more

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“That's the worst thing about teaching, that our actions either have no force at all or have force beyond all intention, and not only our actions but our failures to act, gestures and words held back or unspoken, all we might have done and failed to do; and, more than this, that the consequences echo across years and silence, we can never really know what we've done.” 8 likes
“You can call out for anything you desire, however aberrant or unlikely, and nearly always there comes an answer, it's a large world, we're never as solitary as we think, as unique or unprecedented, what we feel has always already been felt, again and again, without beginning or end.” 6 likes
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