The premise of the novel Open Water sounds like a must-read. A beautiful love story with a male protagonist? Yes, yes! Set in the United Kingdom and written by a black male? Hmm, intriguing. Even the book cover is enticing, so how can I pass on this book? Read below to find out!
The novel begins with a young black male photographer meeting a black female dancer at a London pub. Their chemistry is immediately palpable, even though she is currently dating his close friend. In fact, her boyfriend makes the introduction. As the story progresses, the male and female protagonists cultivate a close friendship that eventually leads to being lovers. In the backdrop of this relationship, the male protagonist internally struggles with being a “black body” in white spaces. The story touches on masculinity, mental health, racial prejudice, and police brutality.
I was not fond of this book. First, the second-person narrative was off-putting and left me removed from the story. When reading dialogues, I spent most of the time trying to figure out who was speaking. Even though the book was short, the second-person narrative prolonged the novel and made it a challenging read. Second, the story was publicized as a romance, but the “romantic aspect” of the book was underwhelming. The male and female protagonists connected dubiously, and the end was messy. My interpretation of a romance novel is that two characters fall in love and eventually have a happy ending. What is your definition of a romance novel?
Lastly, the poetic prose seems forced due to the competing storylines and second-person narrative. The beginning of the book primarily focused on the developing relationship, but somewhat abruptly, the second half of the book concentrated on the male protagonists’ internal conflicts with expressing vulnerability, observing racial prejudices, and police brutality. The poetic prose would have flowed better if the author had one focal point: developing an intimate romance based on a solid foundation or centered on the male protagonists’ observations and thoughts on black oppression.
In conclusion, this novel did not hit the spot for me. If you are looking for a short book written by a black male author with poetic prose, this is for you. However, if you are searching for an endearing romantic novel, this is not the book!
Oh the second-person singular narrative really got to me (although I wrote my review in the same style and I don’t think anyone noticed!). I agree that it wasn’t one thing or another. The stuff about living in a Black male body in London was hugely useful and important, but was clouded by all the name-dropping of cultural icons and the frankly quite annoying relationship. I put this down to being yet another “millennials” novel as they all seem like this (I don’t really like them, being a gen-x person myself, and only seem to read millennial novels that at least have a Global Majority People and/or LGBTQ focus to take the edge off the vagueness!).
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Yes, my main problem was that it seemed like two books were put into one. The first half focused on the “relationship” and the second half on being a black male in London. As a result, it didn’t flow, and the second-person narrative was off-putting.
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