“In the stirrups now. Wish you were here..”
A captivating first novel by Candice Carty-Williams and if you are anything like me, you will devour it in a few sittings as you are jettisoned into Queenie’s life. Queenie and Tom are on a break, partly brought on by Queenie’s reluctance to get too close to men, a sense of not fitting in, the refusal to laugh in the face of inherent racism within Tom’s family, and a certain helping of self-sabotage.
In an attempt to fill the void left by Tom, Queenie finds solace in whatever men she finds, be that in the front of a taxi cab, or a snog at a club (leading to new experiences she tries to assimilate), or at the office, with a co-worker who seems to be falling for her. Could one of these be the right love story for Queenie? Is Tom’s love real or a projection? In her bid to find connection, Queenie lets work slide, finding herself living with her extended Jamaican family, in a place she never expected to be.
You can’t help but love Queenie from the moment you meet her. The surrounding characters are all also weighty and substantially engrossing.
Queenie’s friends are a big part of the story. Darcy is the wing-woman we all want to have, Cassandra is the friend we want to shake when she makes a bad choice, even when we have made so many for ourselves, Kyazike insists her name isn’t pronounced like ‘Jessica’ and demands to be a person in her own right. Queenie’s boss, Gina, is sympathetic and real, her own struggles voiced as she tries to maintain a business where people don’t just skulk off to the sexual health clinic for hours on end, whilst taking their colleague for moral support. Yet Gina still refuses to acknowledge Queenies pitches on the political agendas she wishes to cover, which leads us to question cultural identity within the media, alongside the turbulence of Queenie’s personal life.
Queenie’s relationship with her phone is also a delight; messages to Tom sitting silently without reply, until the kiss that is, and we could go into a whole debate about how text messages can be mis-read here as we agonise with Queenie and will her to move on. Also, Queenie, like many of us, is happy to share her most intimate moments in short text message soundbites. This sharing could be adding to an underlying thread of not facing up to what is causing her self-destructive behaviour, her sense of ‘otherness’, and the difficulty of re-building the relationship with her mother after a fraught childhood, issues which she addresses through therapy, the inclusion of which is also refreshing and positive.
The novel is real and gritty in places, it shines a light onto dating websites and encounters, consent and sexual health, sexual expectations and the excitement and disappointment that can come from realising some people are just after an anonymous experience or conquest. Queenie’s voice is also that of a black female living in a predominantly white society, and the truth of living with everyday remarks and perceptions about appearance, and the stereotyped expectations which are causing rifts within her relationships, even her closest ones.
We begin hoping for Queenie to find love, and to take her sexual health more seriously, and what comes along is a journey to the truth, and it is funny, relatable, fast, realistic and at times painstakingly dark.
This is a fresh voice, challenging stereotypes, and putting women at the forefront of the conversation surrounding sexual choice, sexual health, self-worth and being a whole person without need for validation from lovers, friends, family, the workplace, the general person on the street and society as a whole. As Queenie’s life seemingly erodes, we are with her all the way as she finds the tools to make better choices, to stand up for herself, to know she is not just enough, but more than enough, and we all stand together with her when she tells those who refuse to see beyond their blinkers that enough REALLY is enough. P.S. Sequel please…
About Candice Carty-Williams
Candice Carty-Williams is a new and vibrant voice within literature. Her debut novel Queenie is fresh, exciting and stylistic. The work is written from Queenie’s viewpoint, thus we gain all her first hand experiences, anxieties, desires, regrets, hang-ups and pain. She is a complex and lovable character and a strong female heroine of sorts, even as she makes mistakes in a bid to find acceptance and love. The novel is very easy to read, you would happily not put it down from start to finish, and the text message sections are so relatable, we have all had these interchanges and it’s a clever tool to keep us hooked.
Candice Carty-Williams describes herself as being the result of an affair between a Jamaican cab driver who barely speaks, and a Jamaican-Indian dyslexic receptionist who speaks more than anyone else in the world. This engaging language saturates the book and the result is a well written and touching novel, and it will be a tragedy if it isn’t one of the bestsellers of the year. Alongside working in publishing from the age of 23, and writing for the Guardian Guide, she crafted and launched the Guardian and 4th Estate BAME Short Story Prize in 2016, a literary prize to celebrate black, Asian and minority ethnic writers. Her voice is one for inclusivity and diversity, which is a joy to see, as we live in an era where difference is not championed in many regards.
Carty-Williams says she wrote Queenie after struggling to find a book with characters she could really identify with. In terms of her own experiences of dating she explains has been approached by white men stating things like, “I like really strong ebony women and I want them to dominate me.” She continues, “This has happened to me, like, 100 times.. It’s only now that I’m old and wise enough to understand my value… The younger me – the girl growing up believing that black girls are not desirable except for sex – would have entertained that for a long time.”