Open Water

Caleb Azumah Nelson

fiction contemporary literary
emotional reflective medium-paced

176 pages | first published 2021

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.

What the community thinks

summary of 154 ratings (see reviews)

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emotional 94%
reflective 93%
sad 50%
challenging 33%
hopeful 27%
inspiring 24%
dark 18%
tense 8%
informative 7%
funny 2%
relaxing 2%
adventurous 1%
lighthearted 0%


medium 53%
slow 35%
fast 10%

Plot- or character-driven?

Character: 88% | A mix: 10% | Plot: 1%

Strong character development?

Yes: 63% | It's complicated: 27% | No: 5% | N/A: 3%

Loveable characters?

Yes: 75% | It's complicated: 17% | No: 6%

Diverse cast of characters?

Yes: 90% | No: 6% | It's complicated: 3%

Flaws of characters a main focus?

Yes: 64% | It's complicated: 30% | No: 5%

Average rating