In the current climate of increased awareness surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement, Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams is probably already on your radar, but if not, I’m here to tell you why it should be your next read.
It has been widely credited as the “next Bridget Jones”, but I think it is so much more than that. Don’t get me wrong, I love Bridget Jones, but whilst Queenie is hugely entertaining and maintains the comedic aspects of Helen Fielding’s classic, it deals with more serious topics of racism, the sexualization of the black female body, and mental health.
Queenie is navigating life as a black woman, whilst also balancing her work in a middle-class white office and a string of problematic men. Despite all the incredibly important educational and historical books out there, it’s refreshing to read a story of a black women in the small, ordinary moments of life, dealing with family, friends and boy-troubles.
Every man that Queenie encounters oversexualizes her to fulfil their own sexual fantasy of the black female body, making it difficult for her to find the love she desires. Her mistreatment by the men in her life is balanced by her strong-knit Jamaican family that she temporarily lives with. Thus, the focus of the novel is of black female experience, in an increasingly gentrified London. With the familiar Caribbean bakery gone, and the middle-class white women overrunning to lido, Queenie and her grandma barely recognise Brixton anymore.
These two contrasting areas of her life are especially evident in “The Corgi’s” group chat, where her friends Kyazike and Darcy provide a comical repartee through their disconnect in language and slang. Both women are funny and light-hearted, but also loving and supportive, illustrating the strong female empowerment that Carty-Williams presents throughout the novel.
At work, at a national newspaper, Queenie is fighting to write stories that mean something to her, but is constantly rejected as being “unpalatable”. The idea that authentic stories about racial injustice and Black Lives Matter could be unpalatable to a white audience is horrifying, but unfortunately not uncommon. Carty-Williams’ narrative forces the reader to face up the realities of being a black woman in England – being over-sexualised, or made to lessen themselves so as not to come across as aggressive or overbearing.
Though Queenie is undoubtedly flawed, her experience is authentic and poignant, which the first-person narrative helps to illuminate. Her story is comedic and relatable, whilst simultaneously poignant, as Carty-Williams succeeds in bringing a complex black character to literature.
Words by Isabelle Gray
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