Book review: Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
The reason I wanted to read this book wasn’t because I had been recommended it, but because I read something else by the author. I read Candice Carty-Williams’ essay in the book ‘It’s not OK to feel blue and other lies’ and the writing in it was so rich and her description of her mental health issues was so beautifully written. I’d also listened to some podcasts with Candice in them and she had always come across as an accomplished, barrier breaking woman (ugh sorry to use these cliches but that’s really how she came across!) She created the first Guardian and 4th Estate BAME Short Story Prize, the first inclusive initiative of its kind in book publishing after all.
The story is about a woman, Queenie, whose boyfriend has just asked to ‘go on a break’ and from then on, her life starts slowly unravelling. Her mental health takes a huge hit, she has to deal with traumas from her past and she starts failing at her job. It sounds depressing, but the way Candice Carty-Williams writes, it isn’t.
The predicaments Queenie find herself in are equally disheartening and hilarious, because of their relatability. For example, the novel starts with Queenie in an awkward gynaecology appointment and when the nurse starts making small talk Queenie’s inner dialogue questions ‘Wasn’t it enough that she could literally see inside me? Did she need to know about my day job?.’ Another all too relatable trope in this book is the way the story is sometimes told via the group chat Queenie creates for her and her friends. I’ve always wondered why after a particularly momentous scene in a film they never show the characters logging onto their phone to update the group chat, because that’s probably one of the go-to reactions of anything happening to anyone. Well, in this book it does happen, and it’s in these bits you’ll find yourself laughing the most.
Through these group chats and throughout the rest of the book Candice Carty-Williams also tackles issues which I see cropping up in my life as a woman of colour. For example, she explores black women being sexualised. One particular instance which had me knowingly raising my eyebrows was her brilliant depiction of a Pakistani boy who was married but had a fetish for Queenie’s ‘big batty.’ I’ve experienced this kind of guy so many times. The ones who sexualise black women and pursue them, all the while expecting their wife to be dutiful and virginal.
In telling Queenie’s story we also get a glimpse into other issues such as; the housing crisis, when we see Queenie go on some disastrous house viewings, gentrification, where we see Queenie’s favourite childhood spots disappearing for the new influx of white people who have decided they like to frequent Brixton, and, of course, how mental health is treated in black families. The latter subject is one Carty-Williams focuses on for much of the book and she questions how immigrant families often deny the fact of mental health as a concept and also how she struggles with straddling this culture while facing her own mental health issues.
As a British-asian woman it’s not often you read a book which makes so many references to things you see in your everyday life from using urban dictionary to managing living as an adult with your parents/grandparents. Although, this book is definitely about Queenie’s experience as a black woman and it’s insight into that are eye-opening. In my opinion it’s just great to see these issues explored from a diverse voice.
Read this if: You want to hear a story you haven’t read before. If you straddle between two cultures in your daily life this book will have you nodding along.
Favourite bit: The humour at unexpected times.
Any parts I didn’t like? Some of the descriptions of sex made me wince (but that is the point of them.)
Stars out of 5: 4 stars