Tuesday, 8 March 2022

Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson

Catriona Troth

What We Thought of It:

Open Water is an astonishing love story – delicate, tender, sensual, intimate.

It is written in the second person – an unknown narrator addressing the male protagonist, a young Black man, throughout as ‘you’. Whoever this narrator is, they are privy to the man’s deepest and most private thoughts and emotions. As readers, we find ourselves at once deep inside the protagonist’s head, and yet at one critical remove from it – a clever, challenging and at times unsettling balancing act.

The man meets the women he falls in love with at a party, when she is still in a relationship with a friend of his. He is a photographer, she a dancer. The connection is immediate and intense, and though neither of them makes a move to act upon it, the electricity between them is enough to fracture her previous relationship.

For a long time, they remain as intimate friends, though the direction of travel of their relationship feels inevitable. Nelson’s descriptions of the slow graceful process of surrendering to love are exquisite:

You’re like a pair of jazz musicians, forever improvising. Or perhaps you are not musicians, but your love manifests in the music. Sometimes, your head tucked into her neck, you can feel her heartbeat thudding like a kick drum. Your smiles a grand piano, the glint in her eye like the twinkle of hands caressing ivory keys.

Yet overshadowing everything is the ugly beat of racism, threatening to warp something inside him.

We are all hurting, you said. We are all trying to love, to breathe, and find ourselves stopped by that which is out of our control. We find ourselves unseen. We find ourselves. Unheard. We find ourselves mislabelled. We who are loud and angry, we who are bold and brash. We who are Black. We find ourselves not saying it how it is. We find ourselves scared. We find ourselves suppressed, you said.

Could this ugliness destroy what is beautiful between them? Even though she knows its poison as well has he does? And if so, is there any way back?

This is prose, but wall between it and poetry is gossamer thin. Each word has been weighed carefully and chosen for its impact on the ear and mind of the reader. You don’t read about this relationship: you live it.

Winner of the 2021 Costa First Novel Award.  

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved:
Who’s Loving You? (ed: Sareeta Domingo); Love after Love by Ingrid Persaud; The Gift of Looking Closely by Al Brookes

Avoid If You Dislike: Second Person Narratives

Perfect Accompaniment: 'Brenda' by Isaiah Rashad

Genre: Literary Fiction, Romance

Buy This Book Here

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