Queenie – Candice Carty-Williams: Review & Recommend | LATEST RELEASES

CW: this book contains sex scenes that are violent in nature, though consensual. Queenie also discusses instances of racism, and stigma around mental health.

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams was the July read for The Daisy Book Club (run by yours truly), so naturally, I wanted to review it. I was so excited when everyone voted to select Queenie as our read for the month, because it was a book I’ve had on my TBR for a couple of months, and I thought it would be really interesting to discuss. Queenie was longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020, which is where I first heard of it I believe. I was looking through the longlist, and the synopsis and cover for Queenie really caught my eye.

This book is a great pick for a book club, because there are so many elements that you can pick out and discuss. It’s unsettling or distressing at times, it’s funny, it’s outrageous, it’s touching, and above all, it feels real. I personally haven’t read (I have previously received PR products from Picador) Bridget Jones’ Diary, but I have seen the film and based on that, I wouldn’t say to compare the two is fair at all. Yes, they are both about a woman working at a newspaper, struggling with coming to terms with being single and looking for a partner, and they both have funny elements, but I think that’s pretty much where it ends. The similarities to Bridget Jones are very superficial, and on a deeper level, the two books are trying to do two different things, and conveying two different messages.

At the start of this book, we are introduced to Queenie, a British Jamaican woman, and her partner Tom. Tom and Queenie are ‘on a break’, and Queenie is not taking this well. Queenie’s break with Tom is a catalyst for most of the events of the book: their break has a big effect on her mental health, which causes her to behave recklessly, affects her work, and causes problems with a lot of her relationships. Her character development throughout the novel was really interesting, and well-written: her mental health issues were dealt with sensitively, and none of the development felt rushed or forced. The stigma around mental health in Jamaican culture is addressed through the reactions from some of Queenie’s family, offering the opportunity for some really interesting conversations around mental health, stigma, and the importance of a support network when talking about the book.

As well as dealing with mental health issues, this book also obviously addresses racism, and the Black British experience. Queenie calls out racism when she sees it, including microaggressions such as hair touching that some readers may not see as an instance of racism or racist attitudes, and she also discusses gentrification, which I haven’t seen very often in fiction. There also points in the novel where she explains to a white friend exactly why these things are examples of racism, and should be treated as such, which were eye-opening to read, as there were a few things mentioned I hadn’t considered before. Tom’s family in particular are shown to display microaggressions towards Queenie: one example that stood out was when a member of Tom’s family suggested they should play a game where people wearing light-coloured tops formed one team, and dark-coloured tops the opposing team. Queenie, wearing a white shirt, moves to join Tom’s father, also wearing white, when one of Tom’s relations suggests Queenie should actually be on the dark team due to the colour of her skin.

This political aspect of the book was what drew me to it in the first place, as I wanted to read more books addressing contemporary racism to help me to learn more about the oppression Black people face. While fiction is never going to be able to offer the same amount of information and education as nonfiction, I did find that Queenie offers useful insight into the Black British experience. As well as addressing the political, Queenie also addresses a lot more personal/social phenomenons. The self-destructive behaviour exhibited by Queenie through her relationships with various men after her split was Tom was a particularly challenging part of the book to read. However, these experiences were key to her development later on in the book, and weren’t painted as gratuitous sex scenes: her relationship with sex and men is very clearly unhealthy, and link in with the mental health issues she experiences throughout the book.

In the first few pages of the book, I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy it. I often find that it takes me a few chapters to get into a book, but then it flies by, and that was exactly what happened with this book. Towards the start I felt as though there were a couple of lines that were a bit ‘on the nose’, but only a couple. Queenie has a really strong and consistent voice throughout the novel, which made it a delight to read. For a long part of the book, a part of me was still rooting for Queenie and Tom to get back together because of how strong Queenie’s voice was and how convinced she was that Tom was what she needed to be happy, despite the flashbacks to their relationship suggesting he wasn’t actually a very good partner.

I was really happy the book ended the way it did. I don’t want to spoil the ending so won’t say too much more, but I was very glad that Queenie was left at the point in her life she was. I think the way Carty-Williams ends the story was powerful, and I love the message of self-acceptance and hope the book ends on. I’m really looking forward to Carty-Williams’ future books (please let there be more!!) because this is a great debut novel, and I’d love to read more.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This review also published on GoodReads and The StoryGraph.

8 thoughts on “Queenie – Candice Carty-Williams: Review & Recommend | LATEST RELEASES

    • I’ve seen a few people say it has been! It’s literally just because they’re both about a young woman coming to terms with single life I guess??

      Liked by 1 person

  1. […] Queenie – Candice Carty-Williams. 4 stars.This was the book club read for my book club, Daisy Book Club! I struggled to get into the book initially, but once I sat down with it and got a bit further in, I was really captivated by the characters, Queenie in particular of course. It was great to have a chat with other book club readers and hear what they thought of the book as well! Again, I reviewed this one on my blog, so you can read my full thoughts here. […]

    Liked by 1 person

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