I suspected that he did not think it was great – Candice Carty-Williams.
I read Queenie in two train trips a couple of months ago and the story is one that has stuck with me. It’s easy to see why: hilarious (snorting out loud underneath my face mask whilst on the train – lucky for me it was quiet), a complete page turner – I would have finished this in one sitting if I could have, eye-opening to internal, micro-aggressive racism that Black people, women in particular, receive daily, heart-breaking for a multitude of reasons including broken down relationships, (T.W.) miscarriage and domestic abuse. Queenie is completely and utterly authentic which is why both book and character are a rollercoaster.
Queenie thinks without hesitation. No filter comes to mind and that, in my opinion, is the best kind of contemporary book – one that you can relate to on a personal level with all the quips and questions and what ifs that zoom through your head on the daily. She is heading to breaking point, down a road of self-destruction. She is a young woman in her twenties who is navigating this chapter of her life by doing things she knows she shouldn’t but can’t help it because of her own self-torment. She wants to be the best version of herself; don’t we all? She writes mental to do lists on how to be better and completely disregards them a day or so later. She pins too much hope on that one person who is her light and her life, but in actual fact is no good for her. She is on a journey of making mistakes and navigating a part of life that can be far more difficult and complex than the typical “coming of age” chapter.
Her “sexapades” with various men – all of whom are shit in their own way – make you think Queenie, what are you thinking?! Don’t do it. And yet, we’ve all been there when it comes to making mistakes with relationships – casual or not. The thing is though, these encounters that she has are full of self-loathing from her part and sexual fantasies from the men who want to have sex with a young Black woman. They degrade her in one way or another which leads to Queenie’s humiliation upon self-reflection after the fact. They make her feel worthless and yet she continues to go back to that place where the cycle begins again.
The women in this book are incredible. There are so many characters who play an integral role in Queenie’s life: her grandmother and aunt Maggie – both of whom are funny, sarcastic, brilliant women with traditional views on life. Kyazike who is the best friend everyone needs: doesn’t take shit, tells you how it is, has hilarious stories and sticks up for you no matter what. She is the kind of friend with no filter or boundaries. Darcy is the voice of reason and the kind of friend who is always on time and will wait in the opposite pub whilst you’re on a first date with someone, ready to save you from them or yourself. Gina, the boss, is the kind of boss you want on some level: she takes no prisoners, gives Queenie half a dozen chances and, although follows white superiority protocol, thinks fondly of Queenie’s work and sees true potential in her.
With so much politics infiltrating the pages with mentions of Black Lives Matter, shootings of Black men, micro-aggressions such as handling the “forbidden fruit” and touching Black hair and making racial assumptions about contracting HIV and other STIs alongside the inflation of rent in London areas such as Brixton that led to the loss of predominantly Black-owned businesses, as well as the usurping of the constant stereotype that Black women are strong, aggressive and angry, Queenie is full of important dialogue that we should all be talking about and dismantling. When I say “we”, I mean white people because I know that the majority of my audience is white.
Not only that, but with so much on how negatively British Black women are treated as well as the darkness and confusion of mental health, you would not expect the story to be so full of hilarity and joy either. Queenie is a testament to the small moments of happiness: having a group of girlfriends on WhatsApp to talk about absolutely everything, sitting off in the office and gossiping with your colleague instead of working hard, a warm bed and safety net in the comfort of your family’s home and doing something for yourself despite people from every direction and society having their own opinions on it.
There is so much more to this book than what I’ve written about here; I think you would need an entire series talking about the various themes, representations and aspects. Queenie is a delight to read without question, but it also has dark moments that people shun and don’t talk about, some might say can’t even comprehend. It’s been called the modern Bridget Jones’ Diary, but I think it is much more than that. It will make you cry, and it will make you cry with laughter: a book that can do both within pages is exceptional.
Have you read Queenie? What are your thoughts?
Love, Faye xo