All the high praise that this novel and it’s author have received is very much deserved.
Now and again a book appears amidst much hype on social media and the review sections of major newspapers with a gloriously eye-catching cover calling out to be purchased, only to be a bit of an over-hyped disappointment when you actually read it.
I name no names, but it is safe to say, and really satisfying to say that Queenie, the debut novel from Candice Carty-Williams is definitely not among them.
Queenie, the eponymous character, is not in a good place when we are introduced to her. A trip to the gynaecologist ends with the revelation that she was pregnant but is now suffering a miscarriage. She has just split up with her boyfriend and now has the arduous task of finding somewhere affordable to live in London, her career seems to have stalled, and on top of all that she is trying to figure out how and where she fits in the world as a young British Black woman; as well as deal with difficult family relationships. Thank goodness for her good friends, who she calls her ‘corgis‘ who are there to encourage and provide some supportive and sometimes unhelpful advice in times of need.
There are so many reasons to love this book. First, in Queenie we have a British Black woman as the central character, she’s not the sassy sidekick, best friend, or random character we wish we knew more about. This novel is Queenie’s World and we’ve been extended an invitation to be part of it.
Second, she is instantly relatable, whether navigating her way through the horrors (and I really do mean horrors) of online dating, especially as a Black woman. I’m pretty sure every woman reading would have recognised one or more of the dating scenarios Queenie found herself in- I know I did. Or whether attempting to deal with her mental health which unsurprisingly takes a downturn given all that she experiences in a very short space of time.
Third, Queenie is unapologetically herself, she is not perfect. She’s overly dramatic, has a wicked temper, can be very selfish but we love her because all that aside she is loyal, she’s funny, she’s kind and strong, yet has a vulnerability about her that Black women are not often permitted to show, let alone acknowledge.
Despite the heavy nature of the subject matters, Queenie tackles them, the book is hilarious, like laugh out loud, spit out your tea hilarious. It is a credit to Carty-Williams’ writing that she strikes the right balance between pathos and humour. You never miss the seriousness of the situation but you can see the humour in it. Queenie’s frequent trips to the sexual health clinic are a case in point, as Queenie attempts to reassure the nurse that she’s not being pimped out but just enjoying casual, albeit unsafe and rough sex. It’s written in a humorous way but underscores just how much Queenie underplays her sexual experiences to herself and others and also the assumptions that are made about her as a result. In other scenes it’s the microaggressions such as unsolicited hair touching that plague Black women on a day-to-day basis, that had me nodding sagely in recognition.
Reading Queenie I felt seen in a way that didn’t happen with Bridget Jones (remember her?) and her more recent contemporary Fleabag. Although these characters have been positioned as defining a generation of women, it was clear that it was a generation of white middle-class women that fall under this definition. To borrow a phrase from author Bebe Moore Campbell, ‘their blues ain’t like mine‘. Queenie’s blues are like mine and so many other Black women.
Edited by Ese Monet