It would make sense to describe Queenie, the debut novel by Candice Carty-Williams, as an important political tome of black womanhood and black British life, a rare perspective from the margins. It is both those things, but primarily it is a highly entertaining, often very moving story about one young woman’s life as affected – in fact, almost destroyed – by her love life, with the politics of blackness permeating the pages. It is rare. It’s still so rare that even its most simple, nondescript moments are something to celebrate... This is an important, timely and disarming novel, thirst-quenching and long overdue: one that will be treasured by “any type of black girl” and hordes of other readers besides.
The novel’s conversational, irreverent tone works well in its first third, as Queenie’s unwittingly self-destructive decisions — taken without much agency on her part, and born from an anxiety she cannot overcome — begin to take their toll. Carty-Williams is good on intergenerational attitudes toward mental health, and the pressure of working “twice as hard to get half as much”. “Look,” Queenie’s grandmother tells her, “if you are sad, you have to try not to be.” And yet while Queenie herself is a necessary platform for undoubtedly important discussions, her character lacks consistency and dimensionality... The book’s redemptive ending feels at best rushed, at worst simply hard to believe. In raising so many societal injustices, from domestic violence to consent, the Black Lives Matter movement and London living costs, there’s no time for an in-depth investigation of any one issue. For a book trying to provide vital insights into experiences that are still, in 2019, under-represented, Queenie is lacking in definition of the titular character.
This debut is original, heart-breaking, funny and clever, and also carries many important messages. Jamaican British woman Queenie is an appealingly real protagonist trying to find her place in a confusing world which keeps telling her she’s either too much or not enough...
This vital, uncomfortable and occasionally hilarious book blew my mind in all the best ways. I’m still rooting for Queenie long after turning the final page.
One of many excellent things about this novel is how it lets Queenie face that truth without downplaying her own troubles. Chief among the setbacks she encounters along the way is the fallout from sex with an office colleague, Ted, who turns out to be the worst in a veritable shit parade of ill-advised hook-ups, including a cabbie who calls his penis the Destroyer and a junior doctor who is so rough with her that the nurse at an STD clinic asks if she’s being forced into sex work... While Queenie pins her hopes on decoding a carelessly drunk-texted “X” from Tom, true affirmation comes from the loyal friends in her WhatsApp group: spiky bank clerk Kyazike, literally ready to fight for her former schoolmate, and Darcy, a heart of gold female colleague whose name – a big old wink – lets us know this story about finding yourself, not Mr Right, isn’t a “black Bridget Jones” so much as a 21st-century one.
I have never read a novel that shows the experience of everyday, low-level racism so vividly, or so convincingly. Tom claims he dumped Queenie because she was “too much”, and accuses her of ruining his mother’s birthday party. What really spoilt that party, however, was a snide racist comment from Tom’s uncle. Instead of defending her, Tom plaintively asks: “Why have you always got to take this stuff so seriously?” Queenie is expected to laugh it off, or risk being seen as a troublemaker when she protests...
This is a funny, clever, heartbreaking lightning bolt of a first novel, by a writer bristling with talent.
It is a story that so many of us can relate to and you can’t help but root for the often hapless, always lovable, titular character... Candice wrote Queenie for herself and for younger versions of herself. She wants to carve out space for stories like Queenie’s and make her part of the mainstream tapestry of narratives about Britain. It’s about creating reflections yes, but it is also about creating a deeper understanding. Elevating the narratives of black women and allowing people to understand how they experience the world – it could open eyes and challenge perceptions
Carty-Williams is a talented writer with a fresh perspective that the publishing industry desperately needs. Queenie is not a perfect novel, but then it doesn’t need to be: it’s joyous, memorable and necessary instead.
Plaudits are flooding in from the likes of Kit de Waal and Afua Hirsch for the eagerly anticipated Queenie - a timely novel about one woman's fight to escape her past .