Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

NOTE: AS I’ve come online to schedule this, I’ve just heard that Queenie has won, not only the Debut Book of the Year at the 2020 British Book Awards (Nibbies!), but also the overall Book of the Year! Huge and well deserved congratulations!

Blurb

Meet Queenie.

She just can’t cut a break. Well, apart from one from her long term boyfriend, Tom. That’s just a break though. Definitely not a break up. Stuck between a boss who doesn’t seem to see her, a family who don’t seem to listen (if it’s not Jesus or water rates, they’re not interested), and trying to fit in two worlds that don’t really understand her, it’s no wonder she’s struggling.

She was named to be queen of everything. So why is she finding it so hard to rule her own life?

Review

Finally! After months and months sat on my wishlist, I got around to buying and reading this much raved about book.

And I loved it.

Incredibly relevant and thought-provoking, it has been a strange blend of pleasure and sadness I take from this book.

Firstly, the pleasure. Queenie is a fabulous character. Complex and completely modern, she is entirely herself. But, behind the confident facade lays a very damaged woman. There’s a yearning in her to be loved, and yet she is unable to love herself which leads to a damaging cycle of self-sabotage. That inability to love herself is a theme which will resonate with many women. But for Queenie, it is not only the way that she is treated as a woman, but also, as a woman of colour, which was eye opening, and at times left me utterly disgusted.

I live quite a simple life with very simple ideologies. Perhaps that’s wrong in a world as complex as our own, but I believe in kindness and just generally in being nice. I abhor bullying and nastiness of any kind, and the only way in which I judge people are in how they treat other people and the world around them. Voices within the black community have been – quite rightly – amplified in recent times and I’ve found myself feeling ashamed, quite simply because I was not aware. That by being ignorant I’ve fed into this system of judgement and hate. I’ve determined to do better. And most importantly to listen. And I heard everything that Carty-Williams voiced through Queenie. I laughed with her. I cried with her. I wanted to hug her and be there for her. One of the instances which struck me the most was the scene at the lido pool which appears quite a way through the novel. I think because her first feelings were so relatable to me as a woman, and then when her race became a factor in her experience, it felt alien and fell so far beyond that feminine camaraderie. What initially had me nodding along with a smile on my face, dissolved into disgust. I remember sitting after that section, just needing to think about what I had read to let it sink in. And that’s what makes this book so incredibly special. It tells a story. Not only about Queenie, but about all women of colour. They inhabit her.

Told throughout via Queenie’s point of view, we witness her hit rock bottom and then begin the long climb back up again. The narrative is full of warmth, wit and searing honesty. Nothing is off limits – we’re introduced to her during a gynecologist’s examination – which is a pitch-perfect foreshadowing of just how intimate we will become with her. Through flashbacks, being privy to her dreams and her most innermost thoughts, her character fleshes out in the minds eye and her struggles become real.

One of the elements I thought really worked was the inclusion of text messages, emails and WhatsApp chats between her and her ex, Tom, her friends and colleagues. Simple, but incredibly effective and so true to real life. So much of our relationships with other people are played out via technology, and it felt deliciously voyeuristic to have unrestricted access. It was also a brilliant way to build up other characters and be able to assess objectively their relationship, or otherwise, with Queenie.

Heartbreaking, and yet filled with cathartic hope. Queenie has been a true joy to read, and is a novel which is 100% deserving of every rave review I’ve read/heard.

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