Garth Greenwell

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book | Fiction | Jan 2020
US & Canada → Farrar, Straus & Giroux Inc (Ed. Eric Chinski)
UK & Comm → Picador Books (Ed. Kris Doyle)

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, he transcribes the strange dialects of desire, cementing his stature as one of our most vital living writers.


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Editions Grassett & Fasquelle
Hanser Verlag
Einaudi Editore
Penguin Random House

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

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 is an 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

Édouard 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 degradation, sweetness, confusion, and rage. Most American literature seems neutered by comparison. His perfect noticing extends to the way we experience love and loneliness, the feeling of exile, and the eternal search for home

Sheila Heti
Author of Motherhood

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

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

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

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

An unbearably wonderful, eloquently sexual, thoughtful, emotional, delight of a novel - Garth Greenwell writes like no one else.

Eimear McBride
Author of 'A Girl is a Half Formed Thing'

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'

Garth Greenwell writes with remarkable power, vulnerability and an operatic beauty. What he leaves us with is an absolute truth – love is what drives us all towards light, towards any kind of redemption, but we must earn it, we must give all to it.

Chris Abani

I don't know how Garth Greenwell writes such delicate, profane fiction. These stories are grace and salt, tenderness and shadow. 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'

The simple beauty of the writing is something to behold.

Kirkus (starred review)
Full Review

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 lives between Europe and America, between novel and story, between fiction and the self. It is indescribable, and it is genius.

Rebecca Makkai
Pulitzer finalist for 'The Great Believers'

This is a piercingly observant and meticulously reflective narrative.

Publishers Weekly

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

Greenwell's writing on language, desire, and sex in all their complex
choreography vibrates with intensity, reading like brainwaves and heartbeats as much as words. Concerned with intimacy, its performance, and the inevitability of becoming and being oneself, this is in every way an enriching, deepening follow-up.

Booklist (starred review)

The stories in Cleanness are each a masterpiece. There is no pretension here, no dishonesty—be the subject matter sex or joy or vulnerability or the many meanings and consequences of human proximity. It’s difficult to explain just how much depth there is to Greenwell’s writing; suffice it to say there are things he accomplishes, emotional destinations he reaches in the course of a sentence that many other writers can’t get to over the course of a whole novel.

Omar El Akkad
The Millions

Masterful. Every little detail.

Phil Klay

The book is explicitly—almost incandescently—erotic.

The Paris Review

Greenwell charts the ferocity of desire in the most exquisitely controlled prose imaginable. You’ll be seeing this on many lists next year.


Melancholy and lyrical, this slim volume confirms that Greenwell is among our finest writers on sex and desire.


An electrifying portrait of sex’s power to lacerate and liberate, to make and unmake our deepest selves [...] Intimately powerful. 

Julian Lucas

Greenwell’s style remains as elegant as ever, but here it’s perfectly subordinated to a fuller palette of events and themes.

The Washington Post

The nine stories of Cleanness have the cohesion of a song cycle [...] there is a symmetry to their organization, with a life-altering love affair rippling out from the center.

Joshua Barone
The New York Times

The way he parses an awkward conversation or a drunken night on the town or the most intimate erotic encounters is absolutely spellbinding.

The Boston Globe

Greenwell writes about moments of nuance with unrelenting precision, seeking not to flatten them but to fan them out into an array displaying their every possible shade.

The Paris Review

Greenwell has an uncanny gift, one that comes along rarely. Every detail in every scene glows with meaning.

Dwight Garner
The New York Times

Greenwell displays an extraordinary skill at handling time [...] It’s an exquisite piece of writing that uses a simple plaintive system to create a complex emotional effect.

Colm Toibin
The New York Times

This is a remarkable novel whose prose is both original and insightful [...] Greenwell proves to be such a master of the form that it’s almost as if he invented it.

Full Stop

This writer understands beauty and loss, sorrow and hope, his fluid writing making the telling seem effortless.

NPR Books

Like the work of Jean Genet before him, Greenwell transforms individual appetites into expressions of unlikely commonality. His fictions depict moments of epiphanic desperation—shame, pleasure, remorse, and ecstasy—in which the mysteries of spirit and flesh are rendered briefly legible.

Dustin Illingworth
The Baffler

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Claire Nozieres
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