What Belongs To You by Garth Greenwell

This lovely novel is about a about a poet living in the Bulgarian city Sofia, teaching English at an exclusive school. He becomes involved with a hustler named Mitko. The narrator is paying Mitko for sex, but it’s cast in the language of friendship. Mitko calls everyone his friend, and trades favors for his time and his body. That leads to some odd boundaries, both of them wanting things to be different than they are, but not the same sort of different. It’s a really unhealthy relationship, which eventually ends violently.

Telling you all that isn’t a spoiler, the narrator is very forthright about what happened, and is now trying to explain it all to the reader. The relationship with Mitko was incredibly important to him, but also baffling. It was unlike other things in his life, and even after it has ended he isn’t sure how to explain it. He’s trying to connect this relationship to his relationships with his family, and his first experiences with homosexuality. The reader gets to see him processing how to contextualize Mitko.

It’s a very intimate novel, the reader is addressed, gets told stories that haven’t been told before, that are very private. We’re being invited into something very personal, which makes all the connections work. The novel starts with Mitko, and it comes back to end with Mitko, but in between we learn about the narrator’s family, his childhood, and we see how he grew into the person who’s fucked up in a way that he wound in this relationship with Mitko.

It isn’t a very long book, but it gets a lot in. It’s beautifully written, with incredibly vivid descriptions of the different neighborhoods in Sofia, and the other European cities he visits. It’s very honest, with the narrator’s awkwardness and anxiety on display without making him inarticulate. It’s a stunning little book, and I really enjoyed it.

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