The titular Queenie in Candice Carty-Williams’s debut is a 25-year-old Black British-Jamaican woman who is going through a very bad time. Her self-worth has entirely eroded as a result of her “trial” separation from her long-term boyfriend Tom, which has lead to a series of sexual episodes with strangers, and a work colleague; not to mention an overriding sense of purposelessness at her job.
Queenie is no stranger to emotional turmoil: the repercussions of her mother’s relationship with an abusive lover, which left her living alone at the age of 11, continue to undulate, and there is a standoffish relationship between Queenie and the rest of her family, who demonstrate no pride in Queenie’s accomplishments — she finished school and college, has a full-time job; the first in her family to do so —but are quick to vilify her when she announces her intention to start therapy. Thank goodness she has a strong network of supportive friends to lean on: the bristly, sharp-tongued Kyazike and gold-hearted colleague Darcy.
“Queenie” is one part laugh-out-loud romantic comedy — Queenie desperately trying to decode a sloppily drunk-texted ‘X’ from Tom, navigating her feelings for work colleague Ted — and part candid portrait of a young Black woman unravelling through the pressures of modern life. It’s a delicate balance of tone. The opening is uncomfortable — Queenie learns she had a miscarriage, despite her IUD — and though it never strays towards slapstick, the rest of the novel coruscates with moments of necessary levity. It’s pitch perfect.
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