THE PLOT: Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson is a novel about two Black-British South-Londoners who fall in love. He is a photographer who is coping with the death of his grandparents and anxiety. She is a dancer who is finishing university in Dublin. They are introduced by her boyfriend, but cannot escape the attraction that pulls them together. As their friendship deepens, they realise they see each other for who they each really are. Yet can they maintain this intense, intimate love when the world around them seems to be tearing them down?
RATING: An easy four stars, this book is melodic and beautiful and will hit you in your feels. Fair warning – this book is tailored towards me. I’m from South London so I’m familiar with the locations in the book and even went to the same schools mentioned by the main character (well, I went to that other school in Dulwich). Therefore, I have to caveat my glowing review with the fact I will naturally be more attuned to the subtleties and nuances of the narrative. Also, it’s basically an homage to one of my favourite authors (Zadie Smith) which makes me inclined to like it. That said, this book is a true masterpiece and I urge you to pick up a copy.
GOOD BITS: A literary novel, this book is written so unique. But, unlike other literary novels I’ve read recently, it used language to convey meaning as simply as possible, rather than over-description clouding the narrative. Maybe it’s because the book is short with easily digestible chapters, but I found it kept my attention because it kept to the point. The use of repetition and the second person (you) might not be for everyone, but I loved it. Although there’s not much action in the novel, I felt a deep resonance with the Black-British boy struggling with his emotions. My favourite aspect was the interiority of the main character and how his mental state was described through simple interactions.
NOT SO GOOD BITS: Given the focus on mental health and the amount of going out drinking (to those non brits, we call this going out on the lash), I expected there to be some sort of resolution about alcohol affecting their mental state and relationship. I don’t know why, but I felt alcohol was used too much as a reason for intimacy or distance, so I thought they’d address its role in the book. Also, a minor gripe – I feel like this book glorified “hard love”. I understand every book and film and TV show needs obstacles to the romantic leads getting together, but there’s so many depictions of turbulent love out there, I would’ve liked more of a sense of calmness and security between the two characters to show love doesn’t have to be fireworks – true love can be pleasant as curling up with a cup of tea that the other person has made.
OVERALL: I think this is a good book for anyone and everyone to read. The closest comparisons in writing style that I can think of are Bryan Washington and Carmen Maria Machado, but perhaps it’s just the atmosphere these writers create. Interesting that they are all short story writers, which might explain why I’ve put them together in my brain. Overall, this book will help expand your mindset and provide a new perspective on the novelistic form.