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Open Water

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  27,206 ratings  ·  4,485 reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 145 pages
Published February 4th 2021 by Viking
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Neil Challis This is this months Book for our Book Club and it is perfect as it will bring about many questions and topics it could go on for hours but we only hav…moreThis is this months Book for our Book Club and it is perfect as it will bring about many questions and topics it could go on for hours but we only have 1 1/2 made need 2 sessios(less)

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Average rating 4.13  · 
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 ·  27,206 ratings  ·  4,485 reviews

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Mar 29, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: uk, love
WINNER of the 2021 Costa First Novel Award

To give desire a voice is to give it a body through which to breath and live.

To be one’s whole self in the eyes of another, to be vulnerable and understood, can be frightening. To be denied the same can be dehumanizing or deadly. ‘It’s one thing to be looked at,’ Brithish-Ghanaian author Caleb Azumah Nelson repeats throughout his astonishing debut novel Open Water, ‘and another to be seen.’ This poetic novel of love and life illuminates the Black exper
Jan 10, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Caleb Azumah Nelson's astonishingly exquisite debut novella is a beautifully crafted piece of poetic art that carries an impact well above its relatively short length. It explores identity, what it is to be a young black Londoner, the nature of masculinity, the excruciating exhaustion, fragmentation and trauma of racism, the police brutality, and of constantly not being seen, only perceived as being the black other. Two black artists from similar backgrounds, he's a photographer, and she, a danc ...more
Angela M
So intimate and introspective, it’s beautifully written with prose that feels like poetry at times. This is a passionate love story, pure and deep without explicit sex scenes, but the beauty of what that passion feels like within is expressed. Two young Black artists, one a photographer, one a dancer, getting to know one another, becoming friends, falling in love. Their journey to find each other, trying to navigate their relationship takes place mainly in the back drop of racism in London. They ...more
I wanted to like this one but could just not get past the extremely dramatic writing style. While Open Water contains important themes related to Blackness, masculinity, and the possibilities of two young Black artists falling in love, Caleb Azumah Nelson’s writing felt over the top to me and distracted me from getting to know the characters, who felt more like character sketches by the end of the book, especially the female lead. Here are some examples of passages that pulled me out of the narr ...more
Elyse  Walters
This is one of the most beautiful books of 2021.
...less than 150 pages....
...written in stunning poetic second person....
...Caleb Azumah Nelson’s simplicity and profundity is sagacious > gorgeously brilliant.
...soooo much intimacy I ached,
...I understood,
...I related,
...but I’m white?
...I still related.
...I didn’t cry.
...I didn’t cry.
...I didn’t cry.
I finished the last pages at 2am...
...closed my kindle....
set it on my nightstand...
and wept soundless tears... next to my sleeping
like poetry if i liked poetry.

this is a short book but a slow read. from page one it's too prettily written to go through quickly, and too searing in content to want to!

short review for a short book.

bottom line: just read it!
May 09, 2021 rated it really liked it
Winner of 2021 Costa First Novel Prize.

Language is flimsy... Language fails us, always."
Here, it’s flimsy and reflective, but it doesn’t fail. Poetic prose and liturgical repetition delicately juxtapose a love story alongside the terror of quotidian micro and macro-aggressions that Black people have to live with. Until they don't.

"It's one thing to be looked at and another to be seen."

It opens at a barbers: a place of mirrors and gazes, looking and seeing, and a hub of the Black community. Ref
Kevin (Irish Reader)
Sep 29, 2021 rated it it was ok
Don’t let this rating hinder your interest in the book, as I’m definitely in the minority! I personally just could not get into the writing style, I knew it was in second person narration prior to reading and thought it wouldn’t bother me, but I was wrong. This format and style is definitely something I’m not used to and for me I couldn’t invest in the story the way I wanted to. This may not be an issue for you, which is why I hope my personal reading experience won’t affect yours!
Aug 08, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Told in 30 short chapters, Open Water is elegiac and devastating. At less than 200 pages, I was a bit hesitant in purchasing it at first as I’m kinda wary of books that are either too long or too short. I'm either going to get too much story or too little. As slim as it is, I’m upset it took me a while to finish- I should have read this in two days at most. However, the writing will make you want to take this very slowly; you’ll want to highlight paragraphs, even re-read them out loud because of ...more
Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer
Jan 09, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2021
Hugely deserving winner of the 2021 Costa First Novel award - congratulations to Dymphna Flynn and the other judges for a bold and brilliant choice - which had now been followed by the 2022 British Book Awards - for best Debut Novel.

Caleb Azumah Nelson is a 26 year old South-East London based writer and photographer – and this, his beautifully elegant and affecting debut novel - now included in the influential annual Observer first novelist article - has a second person narrator with much of th
Aug 21, 2022 rated it it was amazing
You guys weren’t kidding when you said this book was beautiful.

TWs to come.
lark benobi
Mar 29, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2021
Exhilarating prose. What I mean to say is: I was exhilarated. I could feel my heart beating faster as I read on. I had an immediate, visceral reaction to the first words, the first beginnings of a story, and after that it unfolded before me like a billowing curtain. It kept getting better. I'm grateful to be reminded that words on a page can do these things. ...more
Feb 23, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley-arcs
As soon as I saw this book cover I just new I had to read this. So beautiful.

This is a story of two black artists in London that meet, become friends, fall in love, and break up but it so much more than just that. Being a middle aged white woman I can't even begin to image what being a young black man in the world today would be like. I don't often read from the point of view of a black man trying to be seen in the world and to say it broke my heart on many occasions would be an understatement.
Mar 01, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
This Novella starts off like an ode to love - the falling in love by two black artists, a dancer and a photographer. We see what draws them together, the shared experiences of having attended private, mostly white schools.
Contrasted with the love story are the encounters the young black man faces with the police, walking while black, driving while black,sitting while black. The more violent encounters other blacks face that are recorded that year. It’s the contrast between being seen as unique
May 26, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
An outstanding debut, showing sensitivity to words and rhythm that’s both like a poet and a rapper. Not an easy or a quick book, with knife violence, police brutality, vulnerability, systematic discrimination and grief in prominent roles.
You know to love is both to swim and to drown.

Very impressed with this debut of Caleb Azumah Nelson!
The writing of Open Water is poetic and reminded me in a certain way to Ocean Vuong his prose writing in On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous.
In a kind of unusual seco

A lyrical novella that contemplates lives that confront both love and hate. Beautifully written, it is at times introspective, and heartbreaking. At times the prose was so lovely I found myself re-reading sentences, paragraphs over and over again, yet other times I found myself re-reading parts again because they were so difficult to internalize the hate and brutality that black people are unjustly suffering far too often.

Set primarily in London, two people who meet through Samuel, a friend of
May 17, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Both tender and bruising, Open Water is a phenomenal debut that packs an awful lot into a small page count. What seems to be a love-at-first-sight story develops into something more complex, peeling back the narrator’s vulnerabilities as a young British-Ghanaian man.

A photographer, his artistic soul connects him to community and Black culture, but it also leaves him raw and exposed, and that sensitive soul is too frangible when faced with trauma and grief.

The star here is Nelson’s sleek, be
“It’s a familiar tongue you note, definitely south of the river. Definitely somewhere you’d be more likely to call home. In this way there are things which you both know and speak with your very being, but here go unsaid.”

Boy meets girl in a very different style from anything I can remember reading before. It’s written in the second person, addressing “you”, commenting on your thoughts and actions. It’s unusual, and I think it may have made me feel a little more judgemental about what the na
This was not nearly as romance-y as I thought it was going to be, but it was a WOW book just the same. Told in second person point of view (how often have you read a book in this perspective??), this is a debut novel featuring a young man and woman who meet, become friends and then fall in love. There is a LOT of wonderful discussion points in this book as it's extremely literary. The feeling of being an "other" is the dominating force that permeates our male lead.

I don't want to give away any
Jul 06, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This is a spectacular debut from Caleb Azumah Nelson. Open Water follows two characters - both Black British - as their relationship develops over the course of a year or so. On one level, this is a beautiful 21st century update of a heterosexual romance. But at its core, Open Water is an examination of what it means to be a Black male living in a society that fundamentally seeks their destruction. In that reality, how is a relationship possible? Racism here is not just isolated or even systemic ...more
Nov 03, 2020 marked it as to-read
The blurb has me craving this book!
Aug 04, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2021-read, uk
English: Open Water
Winner of the 2021 Costa Prize for Debut Novel

Debut novelist Caleb Azumah Nelson has written an ambitious love story that tackles the impact of fear and racism on human relationships - and it's written in lyrical prose while also referring to Black art and theory. The slim, elegant text is rendered in the second person when referring to the protagonist, and while it certainly evokes an artsy effect, it also gives the story intensity, underlining that the Black man at the cente
May 22, 2021 rated it really liked it
An intimate, beautiful love story of two young Black Brits, a photographer and a dancer.
The fear and violence due to racial injustices threaten to tear them apart.
A very lyrical and poetic writing!
It took me quite awhile to read this due to the style of the book and also because I reread paragraphs.. due to the beauty of the writing!
Anxious to see what the author writes next!
Aug 04, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars — A dizzying, dazzling, devastating debut novel.

And I don't say that in the patronizing "good for a debut novel" kind of way, because this is truly a singular and remarkable artistic achievement regardless of it being the author's first novel or his fifth. I only mention it to say that Caleb Azumah Nelson is a unique and exciting new literary voice and I can't wait to see what else he shares with us in the future.

If you're a reader who prefers clear, compelling plots laid out in rela
TJ ☾
Nov 16, 2021 rated it liked it
3 stars 💫

“You would soon learn that love made you worry, but it also made you beautiful. ”

🌪 y'all. i wanted to love this so fucking bad, you don't understand
🌪 i blame my own expectations. i thought i'd be moved moved but just felt passing warmth/recognition at certain paragraphs instead
🌪 loved all the musical references tho
Carmel Hanes
Sep 11, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
4.5 rounded up

I'm admittedly romance-avoidant when it comes to the books I read. I won't read the genre and if I find romance mindlessly inserted into another type of book, I can be an eye-rollingly harsh critic. So I was hesitant to try this one, based on the description. But...several GR friends had given it many stars, which had me curious, so I bought it and began reading.

Wait...I'm also not a fan of 2nd person narrative...is this a double-oops? I had my guard up but continued to read, know
luce (currently recovering from a hiatus)
| | blog | tumblr | ko-fi | |

“Your eyes meet in the silence. The gaze requires no words at all. It is an honest meeting.”

Open Water is an exceedingly lyrical debut. The story, narrated through a second-person perspective (ie 'you') is centred on the relationship between two Black British artists (he is a photographer, she is a dancer). Although their relationship is portrayed through a linear timeline, the narrative lingers only on some key scenes/periods between this will-they-won't-they coup
I know I’m not what people would call a genius but I also don’t believe the reason I didn’t understand what was wrong with these two characters had anything to do with my level of intelligence, empathy or sensibility. For me this just wasn’t good storytelling (full stop!).

One of my main complaints about this story was the use of a second person narrator. I found this choice was not only extremely distracting but also completely unnecessary. The narrator would say something like “You jumped out
Jan 13, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: all-the-stars, arc, 2021
Open Water is a depiction of a visceral love drowning beneath the weight of trauma. It is a tug of war between the desire to simply be and the ache to be seen as more than a Black body. It is a vessel carrying the story of two nameless Black British artists as they ride tumultuous waves of fear, vulnerability and intimacy that spills them in and out of each other.
I know we are only in January but Open Water is already on my 2021 favourites list. Nelson’s writing is sombre yet superb. Every line
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Okay this is one of the best books I've read this year and I'm not sure why I haven't heard about it from more people. It's a relationship novel - not a romance - absorbed in the emotions and internal dialogue of intense connection. It's also about Blackness - specifically in London - and creating art. Loved it, and read it in hoopla. ...more
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Caleb Azumah Nelson is a British-Ghanaian writer and photographer living in south-east London. His writing has been published in Litro. He was recently shortlisted for the Palm Photo Prize and the BBC National Short Story Prize 2020, and won the People's Choice prize. Open Water is his debut novel. ...more

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“You have always thought if you opened your mouth in open water you would drown, but if you didn't open your mouth you would suffocate. So here you are, drowning.” 70 likes
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