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May Book Group Recap: What Belongs To You by Garth Greenwell

[vc_row 0=””][vc_column 0=”” width=”2/3″][vc_column_text 0=””]Earlier this week the Golden Hare Book Group met to discuss Garth Greenwell’s highly acclaimed debut novel What Belongs To You. Here’s what we made of it…

The novel is told from the perspective of an unnamed narrator, an American teacher based in Sofia, Bulgaria, by what seemed to the group as a self-imposed exile. He meets Mitko in the restrooms at a museum: our group found the way that Greenwell wrote about cruising to be particularly effective, with no hints of seediness – an entirely human exchange. You can read more about Greenwell’s thoughts on cruising here. From this point our narrator begins a years-long infatuation with Mitko, sex-worker and waif who takes advantage of others’ obsession with him. But the using is definitely not one-sided. Most of us found the characters deeply flawed but sympathetic, and trapped in very different ways.

Most of us thought this novel was accomplished and moving, though there were a couple of doubters, who felt it lacked plot and the characters weren’t compelling enough. It’s a dense novel for under 200 pages, and we all found that the title, What Belongs To You, was entirely forgettable and struggled to remember it.

The majority of the group really enjoyed this novel, which is often the sign of a very good book as we can often disagree! There were a couple of scenes that didn’t work as well for us (such as the scene on the train) but the first and the final scenes of the book were very effective and beautifully written.

We discussed the fact that Garth Greenwell is a poet, which comes across in his lyrical language, and the structure of the novel is very much in three distinct parts, the middle of which (a flashback to a difficult childhood) has no paragraph breaks. We also discussed how it might fit into the queer literature canon – we spoke about Alan Hollinghurst, James Baldwin and others, whose relationships seem destined for doom.

Do you agree with what we made of What Belongs To You? Let us know in the comments!

 

What Belongs To You by Garth Greenwell is published in the UK by Picador and is available now in paperback at Golden Hare Books. 

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