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

Author: Garth Greenwell

Trade paperback  Published 30 January 2020  256 pages

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

"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

 Recommended and reviewed by Graeme:

"Greenwell has wisely returned to the same setting - Sofia, Bulgaria -  that made his debut novel What Belongs to You so distinctive. It’s a country that rarely makes the news in Australia and many would probably be vague about its exact geographic location. So part of the appeal of both books is that we also see a city and country through the author’s eyes, a place we know little about. It’s certainly a country that has not evolved it’s attitudes to its LGBTI citizens. In one story, the narrator takes part in some sweeping protests through Sofia. A small number of LGBTI friends also protest and identify themselves with rainbow flags. Later, the narrator comes about them, having been attacked by their fellow marchers for being gay. In another story, reference is made to a priest who advocated throwing rocks at LGBTI people. The book is a collection of inter-connected stories all featuring the same unnamed main character, an American teacher and writer, who seems to closely resemble Greenwell himself. What is refreshing and distinctive about Cleanness is that it is very sex positive and explicit for a book published by a major American publisher. Often books are trying to reach the widest possible market - become book club fodder - and so there isn’t too much to startle the non-gay reader. But here we have plenty that might be eye-popping! The second story Gospodar (roughly translated as master or lord) details a sexual encounter that is brutal and escalates towards assault and yet is intoxicatingly pleasurable. But Greenwell also writes tenderness and love just as strikingly as he does sex. In the opening story, a student confides to his gay teacher his own same-sex desires for his best friend and what happened when he finally confesses his feelings. Later in the book, the narrator details a love affair with R, a student from Portugal, that seemingly can have no long-term future. This is superlative writing about sex and intimacy between men."

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