Greenwell’s Cleanness is a really a novel, not a collection of short stories, but many of the sections were previously published as such. Either way, it’s a sensational book, probably my favourite of the decade so far. I wasn’t sure if I should include this one, as its impact comes, in part, from its place in the sequence. Out of context, I fear it may present as too unrelentingly intense; even so, it contains the most brilliant sex writing you’ll find anywhere. Considering the skill it takes to render any sexual encounter with narrative clarity, never mind this level of emotional insight, Greenwell’s achievement here is off the scale. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.
First published in The Paris Review, Summer 2014 and available online here – in full for subscribers, with an extract for free. Collected in Cleanness, Picador, 2020