‘Queenie’ is a hard hitting commentary on society and what it’s like to be not only woman, but a black woman navigating the modern world disguised as a comedy. The book was Waterstone’s ‘Book of The Month’ in February and currently has an average rating of 3.76 on Goodreads. The story follows Queenie, a 25 year old Jamaican British woman, trying to navigate modern London after a break up, as she encounters issues and hardships and tries to reclaim her life.
“The road to recovery is not linear. It’s not straight. It’s a bumpy path, with lots of twists and turns. But you’re on the right track.”
I find this book extremely difficult to read because this could have been a great book, this could have been a book I read and remembered for years to come and spoke of it’s brilliance – we all could have; however it fell short because it is so poorly structured. There are brilliant starts of discussions in this book surrounding race and everything that comes with it, gentrification, therapy, depression and anxiety, but it’s overshadowed by how poorly this book is split.
The protagonist, Queenie, is not a likeable character for a lot of this book, she comes off as self-destructive and sometimes she can be very incosiderate as to what is going on in other people’s lives – she’s not a great friend for a lot of this. Also, I spent roughly the first two thirds of this book watching her make the same mistakes over and over again and it was tiring.
Queenie repeatedly has unprotected with men who hyper sexualise black women, and the sex is always focused around male pleasure rather than her own, and she recognises it but continues to do it. She will then go to work and realise she’s not doing her job and resolves to work harder, but then after lunch will spend the whole afternoon at the same sex clinic that judges her for having unprotected sex. Whilst there could be some great discussions surrounding this pattern of behaviour they don’t really happen until the last quarter of the book. I spent nearly 300 pages reading about Queenie doing this over and over again, and encountering the same male character archetype in different forms and different names, and this is what I mean when I say it was poorly structured.; how many times can we meet the same villain and allow characters to make the same mistakes before the reader grows bored?
Queenie does however change in the last quarter of this book and goes through character development, and it’s lovely to see – it’s really what saved this book. She attends therapy and actually sticks to it and we see a gradual improvement in her mental health. However, character development is only presented for the last quarter of this book, so we spend a disproportionate amount of time with a character who doesn’t change. It cause the book to drag at parts and was frustrating to read, I would have loved to have seen this earlier.
However, I was thrilled to see an accurate portrayal of therapy in this book. After years of attending therapy and also believing mental health never gets an accurate representation in modern literature – I found accurate representation of mental health and therapy. Whilst I know I’ve criticised how long it took for Queenie to show any improvement or ‘character development’ in this book I did appreciate how Candice Carty-Williams explored the breakdown in Queenie’s mental health in this (I just think it went on for too long). I was also really happy with the therapy shown as it reminded me of my therapy sessions. Not only that, but the mental health in this book was constructive, Williams didn’t end the book with Queenie still feeling awful and being ill she ended it with her on the road to recover – which was so exciting to see. Too often now in literature do we have a character who suffers from some undiagnosed mental health problem commit suicide (looking at you ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’) or feel hopeless at the end of the novel – but not here! She’s not fully recovered, but Queenie is working hard to feel okay again and it’s so nice to see as someone with multiple diagnosed mental health problems.
I did also enjoy the exploration and focus on female friendships in this novel, and it does end on a focus on friendship rather than romantic love, which is really nice to see. I don’t agree with all of the friendship choices made but it was nice it ended with a note of platonic love. As well as this, the girl’s groupchat in this was a highlight of the novel and did actually drive the plot forward at times.
I also stated this book touched on a lot of racial issues, these included the hyper sexualisation of black women, Black Lives Matter, the awful shootings of black children in America by police, gentrification, how black women are often treated by health care professionals and many more. It was great to read and all were touched on well, however I would have preferred to seen a deeper discussion about some of these issues – specifically gentrification and The Black Lives Matters movement. Both of these were mentioned several times but I don’t think the book went into a lot of detail about them and I think they could gave really added to the narrative Williams was pushing about being a black woman navigating modern society. However, I don’t think any issues was sorely neglected or just brought up for ‘relevancy points’.
I think this book could have been better if it gone into greater detail about certain topics as a whole and had balanced it’s structure a little better, as unfortunately we spent too much time on Queenie making the same mistakes over and over again instead of on her ‘character development’/mental health recovery.
This read had me all over the place, I laughed at times but I also wanted to scream at Queenie at others, I smiled and I teared up a few times at the end too. It’s a frustrating read but it’s a rewarding one when you get to the end. I don’t know if I would recommend it, but I wouldn’t try and convince you not to read it also. It’s a challenging read and one I think you need to be prepared to go in disliking for a lot of it, but it is extremely engaging and interesting.
This is very different from Waterstone’s pick in January, but I can see why they picked it and it’s a good choice.