Review: Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
Dubbed as a black Bridget Jones, I was very much looking forward to reading Queenie to lighten my reading after the whirlwind that was A Little Life. I have to say, I was surprised at some of the more serious content discussed. But it was refreshing to see it thrown in alongside comedic scenes.
Queenie Jenkins is a 25-year-old Jamaican British woman living in Brixton, London, straddling two cultures and slotting neatly into neither. She works at a national newspaper, where she’s constantly forced to compare herself to her white middle class peers. After a messy break up from her long-term white boyfriend, Queenie seeks comfort in all the wrong places…including several hazardous men who do a good job of occupying brain space and a bad job of affirming self-worth.
It took me a few chapters to get into this book, but once I was in, I was in. Admittedly, Queenie has a similar personality to many female protagonists we see in romantic comedy, chick lit books or films; financially and romantically hopeless, making mistake after mistake. However, there is certainly a much darker edge to this book than their more lighthearted counterparts. Many of the sex scenes were outright uncomfortable to read, questioning levels of consent and an extreme level of gaslighting and degrading language. This is something that is ultimately a merit to the book as well as Candice Carty-Williams, for pushing the envelope on the content of what would otherwise be seen as a mainstream good-humoured contemporary.
Here is a selection of some of the topics I came across during my time reading Queenie (none of which I was expecting):
Naming black people 'bounty' or 'coconut'. There was a wonderful moment where this happened and Queenie's friend reminded her she can be any kind of black girl she wanted to be
BLM. It was upsetting to see Queenie's journalistic pursuits to publish pieces about BLM being constantly shut down for being something people wouldn't want to read about as it isn't trendy enough. Much like the sudden surge of content about BLM starting to slow down as we move further away from George Floyd's death. When it's no longer a trend, people forget that the Black Lives Matter movement is so important and needs to keep going until there is equality
Hair. There are endless moments where afro hair is obsessed over in this book. People approaching her just to touch her hair which is incredibly degrading. It had me questioning my own actions towards my partner's hair!
Gentrification in south London. Brixton has become a trendy spot for young white people to move to, meaning the prices have surged and many black business owners will have had to move further out to retain their shops and restaurants. This was another moment of reflection for me. I have lived in both north and south London, but have ultimately felt very settled in south London. It proves that ultimately, I'm part of the problem too...
Fetishising black women and their bodies. There are scenes of men chatting up white and black women in completely contrasting ways. Offering to buy a drink for one demographic and molesting another. The fetishisation of a curvy body being seen as purely sexual as opposed to being attached to a woman that should be respected
Asking questions such as, "have you ever been with a white guy?" or comments like, "I've never been with a black woman before!" I'm sure a lot of people are guilty of asking these questions. Black culture has become popularised and black men and women have again, become a fetish. Asking these kinds of questions continues to cause a segregation and divide that leaves a sour note of being completely inappropriate
Telling black women they're angry and aggressive whenever they get frustrated. There is a general double standard between men and women already. Men get angry and they are described as alpha, dominant, assertive or passionate. In the same scenario, women are described as bossy, hormonal or emotional. There is another level to this when it comes to being a woman and being black. An angry black woman is a stereotype that doesn't ever seem to shake when it has been consistently portrayed in popular culture without acknowledging that black women have a lot more to be angry about than most
Mental health issues not being acknowledged in black communities. Being a 'strong independent black woman' feeds into this idea of mental health problems not really existing. Queenie takes time to come to terms with the fact she is mentally suffering and contemplates with the idea of seeing a therapist. This is something that is not taken lightly by her grandmother, who is appalled by the idea and won't stand for it
As you can see, this book packs a punch. Queenie is very readable so I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys contemporary fiction. Get ready to feel frustrated, as Queenie is a very tumultuous character, but this is a fun book with some thought provoking themes.
Rating: 4.5 stars
Publication Date: 19 March 2019 (my edition: 6 February 2020)
# of Pages: 400