Open Water is a beautiful, intimate portrayal of two people finding each other, losing, then finding each other once more.
It’s also an exploration of Black masculinity and how vulnerability is not something freely afforded to men and boys. In the midst of mourning the loss of a relative, the unnamed narrator falls for a woman he meets through a friend, and quickly they form a strong bond which later forms into a loving relationship. However, fear and violence soon comes between, and questions arise as to what it truly means to be open, vulnerable and in love.
Written exclusively in the second person narrative, Open Water immediately places you in the narrator’s shoes. His thoughts and feelings are your own, which lends strongly to the intimacy and vulnerability that the author explores throughout the novel. I was struck by how honest and intentional it was, as each word, each sentence is heavy with sentiment and meaning.
I also liked how it was not only a love song to Black love, art and music, it was also a love song to London, with all its strengths and weakness, beauty and ugliness. I really enjoyed the journeys the protagonists made across the city, from North to South, and the small vignettes of activities that make London, London. From getting a takeaway from the local chicken shop to enjoying a slow whine with a stranger at Carnival. And the more devastating aspects like your every move watched and questioned by a hostile police force. Open Water explores how the city can make and break you as a Black person, a Black body, and for me, that formed some of the most poignant parts of the novel. It also explores love, loss, and grief in such a deep and personal way, that it’s difficult not to come away from the novel feeling rather raw and exposed, particularly if, in these pandemic times, you have also experienced the loss of a loved one.
This is a really powerfully written story, packed with raw emotion and vulnerability. Rarely have I read such a tender love story, so sensitively told, especially by a male writer. A really strong debut, from a very thoughtful and talented writer.
Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson is available to buy from all good bookstores.