Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson

Open Water is a novel about two people falling in and out of love, and the impact of race and how you’re viewed in society. A man and a woman with a lot in common—both black British artists who got scholarships to predominantly white private schools—meet in south-east London. They become friends and, slowly, lovers, but their story is tied up with wider realities of race, masculinity, and fear, and the vulnerability of being known.

This is a tender and incisive novel, written in a distinctively poetic second person style with unnamed main characters. It is full of pop culture references and geographical touch points that make it feel very real, though the writing also has a kind of sweeping unreality as you follow their love story. Most of all, Open Water feels like the story of softness in a hard world, and the complexity of love when you must exist in the wider world, and the elements all come together to make it feel like you got a lot from such a short novel.

Caleb Azumah Nelson takes a story of a young man and woman falling in and out of love and gives it a philosophical, political, and poetic edge that feels insightful and exciting. It’s a book you can read in one sitting and deserves to be a hyped debut novel (you can imagine the TV adaptation too).