2021 releases · fiction

Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson

Open WaterGoodreads blurb: A stunning, shattering debut novel about two Black artists falling in and out of love

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.


Release Date: April 13th (but it’s already out in the UK!)
Publisher: Black Cat/Grove Press


This was honestly so beautiful and powerful and I am still processing how well-done this book is. This book explores the themes of young love in a quiet yet resounding way, but also takes on the themes of race, masculinity, mental health and especially what it is like to be a young Black man in the UK right now, interweaving the personal and the universal so deftly.

Caleb Azumah Nelson is such a competent writer, and this is a stunning debut – the prose in here is so stunning and lyrical, and I have most of this book highlighted. The author uses the second person narration to its full potential (a notoriously tricky thing to acomplish), really absorbing the reader into the narrative and elevating the reading experience, making it incredibly intimate in nature. There’s something really perceptive about his writing style, and it felt like reading poetry.

I found this novel to be celebratory and joyful when discussing love, but also sad and melanholic at times, which made the whole narrative feels so real and raw. I think the way that the author managed to explore love and its beauty while also acknowledging how it can get drowned and burdened by trauma was a real endeavour, one that Azumah Nelson seems to accomplish effortlessly (I am sure a lot of effort went into it, but you know what I mean). It was also so refereshing to read about love from a male perspective and it made me think about how rarely we get that and how romantic narratives or these kind of complex emotional narratives are so often written from the female perspective.  

A note to make is that while I loved so many things about this, lyrical writing is not something that works well for me in general, I have a harder time connecting and feel a bit disengaged from it, and that’s something that I felt here as well. I have  tremendous amounts of respect for the writing in here and I really appreciate it on a sentence level, it’s just not personally something that totally works for me. But this book is still brilliant.


Cannot recommend this one more. Definitely worth your time and support AND I think Caleb Azumah Nelson is a writer to watch. Definitely one of the best debuts I ever read, and I cannot wait to see what comes next for Azumah Nelson, and I will be the biggest supporter.



I would love to hear from you – have you read this? Is it on your TBR? If not, ADD IT! And let’s chat!

In the meantime, happy reading





*Thank you to the publisher for supplying me with an e-galley through Edelweiss. All opinions are my own.

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8 thoughts on “Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson

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