This is my first completed book in my Books and Tea reading challenge. Recently, I’ve become a serial ‘Did Not Finish’er, but Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams has broken my habit.
Related: New year, New me Challenges
I first discovered the book through a BBC documentary on race and post-colonialism in literature, and put it on my Christmas list. It then took a whole three months for me to pick it up but as the UK went into pseudo-lock down and the sun ignited spring, I thought it would be the perfect book to read in the garden. I devoured it.
Carty-Williams’ heartbreaking but hilarious novel centres around her eponymous character ‘Queenie’, a twenty-five year old woman from Brixton dragging herself through life: break-ups, break downs, the unforgiving world of the millennial.
The novel starts with the end of Queenie’s relationship with her white boyfriend, and she is forced to return home to her parents. She bounces between relationships, making a seemingly endless collection of poor decisions, before facing the reality that its taken a toll on her mental health.
The descriptions of Queenie’s sexual escapades are really, quite harrowing. In one particular interaction, which leads to her feeling the need to visit a sexual health clinic, I was horrified. Both by the incident itself, and by how nonchalantly Queenie’s character responds to it. The stark reality of the incident ignited thoughts and feelings I had long buried, but once I had put the book down, I felt a real sense of catharsis – strong women, like Queenie, like many of us, are able to move on from mistreatment and abuse. But what is most powerful in Queenie’s narrative is how she navigates the institutionalised racism within the world of work, and of dating. Queenie dates white boys, and literally every interaction she has culminates in her being fetishised or abused racially and sexually.
Race and black culture is a key theme in Queenie. Carty-Williams challenges the gentrification of areas like Brixton, critiquing hipster culture, in a subtle way. More significantly, she challenges the the attitudes of white people, critiquing the notion of ‘colourblind’ness, to remind her readers that people’s race and ethnicity – an aspect which is unchangeable – determines the way in which they navigate the world. As a white woman, I will never experience the horrific discrimination that Queenie does, but Carty-Williams forces us to see the world through Queenie’s eyes. Indeed, I felt seething rage no less than four times throughout the novel: on each occasion, Queenie was a victim of racial abuse.
Then, with seamless skill and flair, Carty-Williams intertwines these moments with sheer hilarity. Queenie’s narrative voice is naturally comic; Kyazike’s characterisation is truly powerful – her description of her dates are comedy gold; her grandparents, hilarious. Indeed, Queenie is a worthy candidate for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020, and is a compelling read.
Who would enjoy this book
Women who are passionate about equality, and are critical of institutional racism, and sexism, and enjoy a little splash of dark humour.
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