Rosewater by Liv Little

Rosewater is a debut novel about a queer Black woman living in London, a poet who works at a local gay bar but is sinking. When Elsie is evicted from her home, her best friend Juliet who she’s not spoken to in months lets her stay in her spare room. Elsie tries to find purpose in her life and reconnect with both her poetry and her loved ones, but it is hard to keep these fragile things together, especially when she realises some of the things she’s been hiding from herself.

This is a book that brings you into Elsie’s world, into precarious millennial existence in London and the difficulties of wanting to make art and have love when you are struggling. The pace starts off quite slowly and feels similar to other novels about people spiralling in their life, unable to communicate what is going on to those around, but it gets faster as the book goes on, with much more drama in the second half of the book. By the end of the book, I was very invested in the characters, and was glad that the ending brought hope. Partway through I did worry it would end up being one of those books where the narrator never really gets anywhere and nothing really happens, but thankfully that wasn’t the case.

There’s a lot woven into the book, from adjusting to change to accepting love to navigating dating, sex, and friendship. Through Juliet there’s also a look at prejudice against sex work, and in general the book looks at forms of work in the modern day and the overwhelming presence of money (or lack of it) in life. I liked the ways in which sexuality and gender were written in the book, with details that felt real but the focus always being on how Elsie needed to learn to stop sabotaging herself.

Bold and emotional, Rosewater told a great queer story of falling in love with your best friend alongside the difficulties of getting yourself on track when the world seems against you.