Two young people meet at a pub in South East London. Both are Black British, both won scholarships to private schools where they struggled to belong, both are now artists – he a photographer, she a dancer – trying to make their mark in a city that by turns celebrates and rejects them. Tentatively, tenderly, they fall in love. But two people who seem destined to be together can still be torn apart by fear and violence.
At once an achingly beautiful love story and a potent insight into race and masculinity, Open Water asks what it means to be a person in a world that sees you only as a Black body, to be vulnerable when you are only respected for strength, to find safety in love, only to lose it. With gorgeous, soulful intensity, Caleb Azumah Nelson has written the most essential debut of recent years.
*I was sent an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review – a massive thank you to Viking Books for giving me a chance to read this prior to publication*
Open Water is a lyrical, beautifully written novel set in London, centered around a young Black British man and his experiences in life and love. We read as he falls in love deeply with a dancer he meets as if by fate, something connecting them before they even really get to know each other. I loved the exploration of their subsequent relationship and how they go from being best friends to slowly but inexorably falling in love and having a connection that runs soul deep.
It’s a meditation on love and being known, on masculinity and being a young Black man in the UK, and the disparity between who you are and how you’re perceived. The second person narrative really works to bring a reader in and heightens the experience that is this book. Nelson charges the book with cultural, political and social references and exploration, enriching the novel further and adding another dimension.
This book is so sensitive and emotional, filled with so many quiet moments where you’re just taken aback by Caleb Azumah Nelson’s way of capturing emotions and making it feel so universal and at the same time so personal. I foresee this book being immensely popular on its release and rightfully so, a tender book in so many ways and a book I imagine will allow so many readers to feel seen.
Until next time,