Winner of the 2020 British Book Awards ‘Book of the Year’, it’s Queenie
Poignant, important and an absolute laugh and a half; Candice Carty-William’s debut, Queenie, is a firecracker of a novel.
Before I tell you why I loved Queenie so much, let’s start with a few questions to get the ball rolling:
1) We’re introduced to Queenie as she undergoes a sexual health checkup. What were your first impressions of her? Did this initial introduction give you a sense of where the novel was going?
2) While Queenie’s breakup with Tom features heavily in the novel, she reveals only snippets of what their relationship was really like. How does the structure of Queenie give us a better understanding of what she’s thinking? Do the text conversations and e-mails help?
3) At one point, Queenie addresses the murder of ‘another black man’ in America, to which Darcy replies, ‘”Oh no, what was he doing?”‘. She goes onto defend herself by saying ‘”It’s me you’re talking too…Darcy? Best friend? Annoyingly liberal?”‘. Why is her comment so charged? How do other events in the novel add to Queenie’s frustration in this moment?
4) When Queenie pitches story ideas, she’s often shut down by her boss, Gina. Why is Gina reluctant to run anything involving the Black Lives Matter movement or police brutality?
5) Queenie was marketed to readers as the ‘Black Bridget Jones‘. How do you feel about this comparison? Do you think there’s any basis for it?
I feel like there’s sooo many other topics we could broach, but I don’t want to overload this post too much with questions.
Let’s make one thing clear; Queenie is not a ‘Black Bridget Jones’.
Funny? Yes. A little bit cringe? Of course. But Candice Carty-Williams’ brilliant creation, Queenie, is as equally troubled and complex as she is hilarious and endearing.
After her relationship with her boyfriend comes to a standstill, Queenie is left floundering in all areas of her life. At 25, she’s struggling to get her boss to take her ideas seriously, she continually matches with total creeps on Tinder, and to top it all off, she’s living in a tiny room in Brixton for £800 a month. Straddling both her Jamaican ancestry and modern life as a British woman, Queenie must now confront a difficult past and look toward the future.
‘”So what do you do…Queenie?” the doctor asked, glancing at my chart.
Wasn’t it enough that she could literally see inside me? Did she need to know about my day job?”‘
I feel like there’s so much to talk about! Queenie started out as a kind of break-up novel but evolved into something much, much deeper than that. By the end, it had expertly tackled mental health issues, not-so-casual racism and finding love in the modern world.
That’s why the Bridget Jones comparison annoys me!! Rather than laying in bed, chaining ciggies and Ferrero Rochers (I’m not criticising Bridget here – just making an observation), Queenie is far more dark than its hot pink book cover may suggest. Self-destructive and impulsive, Queenie’s behaviour honestly annoyed the shit out of me half the time because you genuinely didn’t know what the girl was going to do next. With that said, the novel’s structure – a mixture of embedded text conversations and emails in the prose – builds tension beautifully. Carty-Williams writes with such vivacity and wit that while your heart breaks for Queenie on more than one occasion, you also find yourself laughing along with her.
‘Before I got off the bus, I made an internal list of people who could touch my hair.
2) A hairdresser
3) That’s it, that’s the whole list.’
One of the things that struck me above all else is the way Queenie is treated due to her race. She’s poked, prodded and harassed by people around her as though she’s somehow not worthy of a little personal space. While some of these incidents are able to fly under the radar, Carty-Williams makes it clear that aggressions towards black women can often be so engrained in people’s behaviour that the perpetrators themselves don’t recognise they’re being aggressive.
As the novel goes on, we watch Queenie become more assertive as her sense of self blossoms, but obviously she shouldn’t have to constantly battle ignorance. One thing that did annoy me, though, was that Queenie’s ex, Tom, kind of got away with being a crap boyfriend and letting his gammon family intimidate his girlfriend for being black. Gross behaviour. Less Tom, more Queenie.
I can see why Queenie has been winning awards left, right and centre. It’s an incredible debut and I loved reading it so so much.
As always, if anyone has any recommendations coming up, please let me know! I’m halfway through rereading Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, so expect a review on that soon.
p.s. For our August book club pick, we’re reading One Hundred Years of Solitude!