What Belongs To You
Picador $24.99 pb, 194 pp, 9781509836611
In the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, an expat American teacher goes down into the subterranean bathroom beneath the National Palace of Culture, a known beat. There he encounters Mitko, a young Bulgarian hustler. Through foreign words with plural and ambiguous meanings, they negotiate a sexual transaction that initiates an intense, potentially ruinous relationship. Garth Greenwell's masterly début, What Belongs to You, begins with this descent, both literal and emotional, from which the narrator won't resurface for the duration of the novel, or perhaps ever.
This narrator is unnamed, but that's all of him that remains anonymous; his desires, past wounds – everything is revealed in intricate, deeply felt intimacy. Mitko is charming, inscrutable, and occasionally forbidding. To the narrator he is sexual heroin. Mitko makes him imagine 'thrown switches in a house'; he is helpless with lust for him.