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.
Open Water explores so much but centres largely on how it feels to be a young Black man in London. We view anguish and grief as a result of police brutality and systemic racism, and at other times in the novel we see the power of being part of a community.
I was rooting for both of the characters and at times felt so frustrated with how our main character was behaving towards her, whilst being aware that I could never truly understand his experiences. I think as a reader you are supposed to recognise that he does not always behave perfectly but he is dealing with a lot. Though this book is in some ways very much about romance, it’s never cheesy. It felt realistic and honest.
There are lots of music, movie and book references, and areas and places in London that I recognised, which I enjoyed reading about.
Where Open Water fell down for me is the writing style. It addresses incredibly important topics and I can appreciate to some extent the lyrical prose that so many other people have loved in this novel, but it just felt overwritten to me. It uses a huge amount of flowery language and metaphors which felt like a barrier to the story at times. It’s just not a writing style I tend to connect with.
However, if you love writing that’s more like poetry than prose, Open Water would be a great choice. Whilst I enjoyed the story, the writing didn’t quite hit the mark for me, but I can still see why so many people loved it.
My rating: 3/5