Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
Published by Trapeze, 2019
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Queenie is essentially a coming of age story about the importance of acknowledging the past, and learning to value yourself. In the novel, our 25-year-old titular heroine finds herself sliding increasingly towards rock bottom. Off the back of a messy breakup, she embarks on a string of casual sexual encounters with men who fetishize and manipulate her to the point of abuse. Queenie also feels undervalued in her job at a newspaper, where her requests to cover advancements in the Black Lives Matter movement are constantly rebuked. On top of all that, she feels pressurised to live up to the high standards placed on her by her family, and struggles to deal with events from her childhood that left her relationship with her mother in a poor state.
There’s a good emphasis placed on Queenie’s mental health throughout the book, and this makes her an easy character to root for. Her desire to better herself, and her tendency to use humour to deflect from her own pain are endearing and relatable qualities. This, coupled with the very readable, straight-forward prose, made the novel a breeze to fly through.
I think the success of the book’s attempts to tackle big issues (like institutionalised racism, the long-term impact of suppressed trauma, and the abuse and fetishization of black, female bodies) is partly dependent on the angle from which you look at the novel. When taken as the commercial fiction it is generally marketed as, its social commentary fleshes out the characters at no cost to the novel’s readability – which is great! When analysed from a more literary perspective, however, (which seems unavoidable now it has started cropping up on book prize longlists), it’s trajectory feels too predictable, and its handling of wider themes too simplistic and heavy-handed. Carty-Williams very much adopts the ‘tell’ approach, rather than the more nuanced method of ‘showing’, with her characters spelling out in no uncertain terms every point she ever set out to make with the novel – even when it feels clumsily woke and self-aware.
You can agree with everything an author is saying, and respect the significance of the topics being addressed, but still not want to have everything spoon-fed to you through the narration. That was my only real issue with Queenie; that it left no room for interpretation, and invited no further contemplation or discussion beyond the page.
This is a fine enough book overall; easy to read and hard to complain about, but in no way as bold or subversive as it could have been.
You can pick up a copy of Queenie from Book Depository by clicking here.
WOMEN’S PRIZE 2020 REVIEWS SO FAR:
1. Girl, Woman, Other | 2. Hamnet | 3. Fleishman Is in Trouble | 4. Girl | 5. A Thousand Ships | 6. Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line | 7. Dominicana | 8. The Most Fun We Ever Had | 9. Weather | 10. How We Disappeared | 11. Red at the Bone | 12. Nightingale Point | 13. The Dutch House | 14. Actress