Mr. Greenwell writes long sentences, pinned at the joints by semicolons, that push forward like confidently searching vines. There’s suppleness and mastery in his voice. He seems to have an inborn ability to cast a spell.
“What Belongs to You is fairly explicitly about shame, punishment, and disgust, among other things. What is unusual is not the presence of these themes but the book’s complicated embrace of 'foulness,' and a barely suppressed longing for punishment, a longing embodied in the narrator’s relationship with Mitko. Greenwell’s novel impresses for many reasons, not least of which is how perfectly it fulfills its intentions.
Stylistically, Greenwell owes more to Sebald than to Nabokov; his long, meditative sentences, which often veer aside into a seemingly unrelated observations, are powered by reflection rather than feeling. One of the great pleasures of his prose is how profoundly thoughtful it is, even when considering physical needs and passions.