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‘Small Worlds’ by Caleb Azumah Nelson

Wow. Wow. And for the avoidance of doubt: wow. Caleb Azumah Nelson writes astonishingly good prose.

It’s three years since I read his ‘stunning’ first novel, Open Water. I bought this second novel when it first came out, a year ago. I’ve been scared to read it because I didn’t think it could possibly live up to the promise of his first book, and I was braced for disappointment.

But wow.

Nelson writes prose that is also poetry. His turn of phrase, his toying with language, and his perfect elucidation of specific thoughts and feelings are incredible.

Despite that talent, the theme of this book is music and how it traverses the limits of language. It’s so lovely to read a recent novel that is sceptical of the power of language, that is not a peon to the written word. For it to be written in such beautiful language itself is a singular treat.

I can barely tell you the plot of the book because I was so taken with the writing that I almost didn’t notice. That narrator, a young black Londoner born to Ghanian parents comes of age, struggles with his relationship with his parents, and visits his extended family in Ghana. He revels in jazz, dancing—the solution of all of life’s problems—and playing the trumpet. I wasn’t as absorbed by the plot of this book as I was by Open Water, but I didn’t really mind.

The New York Times called Nelson’s writing in this book ‘overwrought or just bizarre’, so I’m more than willing to accept that this isn’t a book for everyone. But it was certainly for me, and I will wait with a combination of excitement and trepidation for whatever he writes next.

This post was filed under: What I've Been Reading, .

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