“Open Water” – Caleb Azumah Nelson

The fact of me having read “Open Water” was once again a classic example of the positive effect book clubs can have by making you leave your comfort zone. Even though I’ve heard quite a bit about the book, I wouldn’t have necessarily picked up something that sounded to be just another love story between two heterosexual individuals. Being startled by a narration in the second person straight from the beginning on also added to the thought of, “What am I getting myself into here?” Nevertheless, this story ended up being a very special one, leaving me longing to get my hands on the author’s next book as soon as possible. With its style, its flow, its rhythm, its pace and its multifaceted characters, it was an absolute pleasure to read on, page after page.

There’s an anger you have. It is cool and blue and unshifting. You wish it was red so it would explode from your very being, explode and be done with, but you are too used to cooling this anger, so it remains.

p. 118

The choice of words throughout the whole book was simply exquisite. There’s not a single one out of place, everything is precisely expressed and the length of the story feels just right. I was always looking forward to picking the book up to read on and the ending was simply the cherry on top of the cake! The style reminded me a bit of the one of Ocean Vuong’s novel “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous“, “Open Water” having had something so melodic to it that it read like a poem at times.

Loosen up, she says, and your hips break like the language. No need for mimicry. Miserly grey of a London sky on Carnival Monday, muggy heat stalling on bare back as you danced the day away with a stranger.

p. 97

There were so many deep topics touched upon with such empathy and sensitivity. The particularities and the struggles of life as a Black person in London, the burden of patriarchy, the male struggle of showing emotions and vulnerability. All the characters felt real and tangible, which made it extremely easy to dive emotionally deep into their fates.

You dial for your father, but you know he will not have the words. He will hide behind a guise, he will tell you to be a man. He will not tell you how much he hurt too, even though you can hear the shiver in the timbre of his voice.

p. 31

It’s easier to hide in your own darkness, than to emerge, naked and vulnerable, blinking in your own light. […] You wish you had the words, no, you wish you had the courage to climb up from whatever pit you have fallen into, but right now, you do not.

p. 125

The author managed to conjure up beautiful visual metaphors in your head and he sketched out the characters in such a humane way that you couldn’t help but construct parallels to your own world. Reading about young love, this made you remember similar moments you have had in your life, made you cherish your current relationship more by letting you dive back towards it base, the moments of its creation in the past.

You know that to love is both to swim and to drown. You know to love is to be a whole, partial, a joint, a fracture, a heart, a bone. It is to bleed and heal. It is to be in the world, honest. It is to place someone next to your beating heart in the absolute darkness of your inner, and trust they will hold you close. To love is to trust, to trust is to have faith.

p. 100

This book will surely speak to those who appreciate the mastery of the creative usage of language. To those who enjoy an intricate, special and unique type of style. To those who long for relatable and realistic storytelling. In any case, I was extremely glad to have discovered Caleb Azumah Nelson’s writing and I can’t wait to read his next novel, “Small Worlds”, soon. The rating was extremely easy to give here – a solid 5/5 ★ – there was simply nothing I could have criticised about the book!

“Open Water” – Caleb Azumah Nelson

★★★★★ (5/5)

Edition: ISBN 978-0-241-44878-6
Penguin Random House, first published in 2021

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