Queenie – Candice Carty-Williams (2019)

One of the most hotly anticipated titles of 2019 and a debut which certainly lived up to commercial and critical expectations.  It has been a strong seller since publication and has been highlighted by awards committees picking up the coveted Book Of The Year at The British Book Awards.

I’m certainly not the niche market for this book.  When I applied for a pre-publication review copy the publishers turned me down.  (I’m hoping that this was because I didn’t fit their “profile” of desired reviewers for this title) which does mean that I felt a little disgruntled towards this book and didn’t rush to read it, but I always knew I would succumb and now I have.

The reason this remained on my radar is because I’ve been enjoying Candice Carty-Williams’ columns in the Saturday Guardian Review and was keen to see if the honest warmth of her writing would come across in her debut novel.

Queenie is 25, working in London at a newspaper on the listings sections.  When her boyfriend thinks a trial separation is necessary Queenie struggles to navigate her life without him.  Her work becomes unfocused, her sexual relationships casual and plentiful and her friends set up an online group, The Corgis, to support their Queen,  It’s very modern and feels relevant and contemporary, even more so with Black Lives Matter gaining greater prominence in the light of recent events.

Queenie’s response to her white boyfriend wanting to take a break is the catalyst which forces her life to go into freefall.  I think where this novel really comes into its own is when she hits rock bottom and begins to work herself back up dealing with mental health issues and the problems faced by a young black girl in modern society.  Queenie is full of hang-ups and anxieties, will only date white men because she’s scared she doesn’t fit into what a black girl is expected to be, telling her younger cousin at one point; “We’re different and they need to accept our difference….People are going to try and put you in a mould, they’re going to tell you who you should be and how you should act.  You’re going to have to work hard to carve out your own identity, but you can do it.”

The book is Queenie’s attempt to establish that identity, she will frustrate as a character and a lot of her actions are questionable (and often funny) but she will win most readers over and it is certainly within her character that the heart of this book lies.  This is a strong debut which deserved to do well.  Candice Carty-Williams has a great talent of speaking directly to her audience through her character.  If it resonates with a white, middle-aged male like me those with more in common with Queenie should absolutely love it.

Queenie was published by Trapeze in April 2019

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