Haringey Community Press

Haringey Community Press

Life lessons

Karin Lock reviews Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

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Candice Carty-Williams
By Karin Lock 24 March 2022

Published in 2019, Queenie has been the book on critics’ lists (and lips) for the last two years. From word-of-mouth publicity, and numerous sightings on London transport, it is a debut work that demands visibility. The novel’s bright cover announces that this story is: “hilarious, compelling, honest” but should we believe the hype?Published in 2019, Queenie has been the book on critics’ lists (and lips) for the last two years. From word-of-mouth publicity, and numerous sightings on London transport, it is a debut work that demands visibility. The novel’s bright cover announces that this story is: “hilarious, compelling, honest” but should we believe the hype?

We meet Queenie initially in the sexual health or ‘gynae’ clinic. She is being examined by a chatty female doctor, much to her concern: “Wasn’t it enough that she could see literally inside me? Did she need to know about my day job?” This is typical Queenie humour: sarky and razor sharp.We meet Queenie initially in the sexual health or ‘gynae’ clinic. She is being examined by a chatty female doctor, much to her concern: “Wasn’t it enough that she could see literally inside me? Did she need to know about my day job?” This is typical Queenie humour: sarky and razor sharp.

Our protagonist works for The Daily Read newspaper, where she compiles the entertainment listings. She lives with her white boyfriend Tom in his gentrified Brixton flat, but all is not well. The reader learns that Queenie’s emotional baggage or “stuff” has affected their relationship. She has her ‘girls’ (the Corgis) to give advice but it might be time to move out.Our protagonist works for The Daily Read newspaper, where she compiles the entertainment listings. She lives with her white boyfriend Tom in his gentrified Brixton flat, but all is not well. The reader learns that Queenie’s emotional baggage or “stuff” has affected their relationship. She has her ‘girls’ (the Corgis) to give advice but it might be time to move out.

With its realistic characters and tragicomic look at London life, Queenie is a novel that many will relate to. Who hasn’t trudged to countless shared house viewings, analysing residents to check for sociopathic tendencies? Or spent countless hours trying to make connections with complete strangers on pointless dating apps?With its realistic characters and tragicomic look at London life, Queenie is a novel that many will relate to. Who hasn’t trudged to countless shared house viewings, analysing residents to check for sociopathic tendencies? Or spent countless hours trying to make connections with complete strangers on pointless dating apps?

Queenie is full of righteous rage as she contemplates the loss of another young Black life to state violence: “if the thinking is that someone should be killed for doing something wrong, that thinking is dangerous”. When it comes to boundaries though, Queenie struggles. As her life unravels, the self-sabotaging demons of self-doubt and emotional instability take over.Queenie is full of righteous rage as she contemplates the loss of another young Black life to state violence: “if the thinking is that someone should be killed for doing something wrong, that thinking is dangerous”. When it comes to boundaries though, Queenie struggles. As her life unravels, the self-sabotaging demons of self-doubt and emotional instability take over.

Having split up from Tom (but hoping for a reunion), Queenie meets ‘dates’ whose behaviour range from casual racism to sexual harassment, emotional abuse, and violence. She tries unsuccessfully to use her body to camouflage her emotions. Her symptoms of post-traumatic stress – depression, anxiety, and panic attacks – only worsen.Having split up from Tom (but hoping for a reunion), Queenie meets ‘dates’ whose behaviour range from casual racism to sexual harassment, emotional abuse, and violence. She tries unsuccessfully to use her body to camouflage her emotions. Her symptoms of post-traumatic stress – depression, anxiety, and panic attacks – only worsen.

Here the author wants to confront cultural taboos around counselling. It is Queenie’s Jamaican grandfather who encourages her to break the mould and seek help. It is a soberinglesson, offsetting the comic elements within the book. Like all of us, the narrator seeks belonging and respect, but she must first understand her feelings by looking within.Here the author wants to confront cultural taboos around counselling. It is Queenie’s Jamaican grandfather who encourages her to break the mould and seek help. It is a soberinglesson, offsetting the comic elements within the book. Like all of us, the narrator seeks belonging and respect, but she must first understand her feelings by looking within.

In his 2017 House of Commons diversity speech, the actor Riz Ahmed mentioned that stories are “the currencyof our culture”. This narrative how “identity, politics and mental health intersect” and the importance of being heard, seen, and represented. Queenie’s healing journey is a chance for readers to reflect on their own capacity to empathise, understand, and be kind to others.In his 2017 House of Commons diversity speech, the actor Riz Ahmed mentioned that stories are “the currencyof our culture”. This narrative how “identity, politics and mental health intersect” and the importance of being heard, seen, and represented. Queenie’s healing journey is a chance for readers to reflect on their own capacity to empathise, understand, and be kind to others.

From its cover, Queenie might be categorised as ‘popular’ fiction (a label often applied to women’s writing) but this is not a negative description. As a modern and intimate exploration of race and gender politics, Queenie contains many uncomfortable truths. It is both necessary and life-affirming, and on its way to becoming a classic. Watch out for the eight-part mini-series coming to Channel 4 later this year.From its cover, Queenie might be categorised as ‘popular’ fiction (a label often applied to women’s writing) but this is not a negative description. As a modern and intimate exploration of race and gender politics, Queenie contains many uncomfortable truths. It is both necessary and life-affirming, and on its way to becoming a classic. Watch out for the eight-part mini-series coming to Channel 4 later this year.