Cleanness: Garth Greenwell

★★★

In Garth Greenwell’s searingly personal and super sexy Cleanness, an American reflects on the time he has spent abroad as a teacher in Bulgaria, with particular focus on his emotional and sexual experiences.

Thank you to FSG for the free book!

Our unnamed narrator reminisces on the love he has made and shared with the men in his life, the intimacy he has found, and the lives he has touched and that have touched his during his time in Sofia, Bulgaria. The residents of Sofia have aspirations of leaving their stifling city, but our narrator only remembers the experiences – mostly positive and yet, emotionally confusing – as he prepares to leave Europe behind.

Content Warning

Please take caution while reading Cleanness if any of the follow topics may trigger you:

  • Sexual assault
  • Abuse
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Violence
  • Pornographic content
  • Homophobia

My Thoughts

Okay, let me get this out of the way first – Cleanness is the steamiest book I have ever read. I’m blown away by such clear, frank, and utterly bold portrayals of queer sex. It’s free in a way that I’ve never read, and it is really well done.

Of course, sex is not the only topic in this beautiful book. Our narrator shares several stories from his time in Bulgaria, each ultimately to do with his getting closer to finding or further losing himself – all rooted in love and sexuality. He is, at times, a voyeur; watching others live life with deep conviction. At other times, he takes risks – physical and emotional. Each story, each experience, is told with vivid detail that easily elicits emotion from the reader. Throughout the book, I felt hopeful, horrified, heartbroken, and confused.

Our narrator is not perfect; in fact, this book is often – among other things – a collection of his trying something new that doesn’t work. I was constantly drawn to him, however; he is earnest and full of passion. The writing is exceptionally immersive and the narrator’s tendency to feel deeply addicting.

I really enjoyed this book; it is one with beautiful prose, a forthright narrator, and an utterly free exploration of sex and love that will leave your heart affected. If you’re a fan of literary fiction and can get down with some steam, I definitely recommend Cleanness.


Thanks so much for taking the time to read my thoughts on Cleanness. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the novel in the comments or at my Instagram, @bookmarkedbya!

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