Spanning over 500 pages, Queenie is a ride through a truly dramatic episode in the life of the eponymous protagonist, in which her relationship ends, she fears for her job and is forced to move into a run-down flat-share in gentrified London. At the same time, the novel celebrates friendship, normalizes physical diversity and psychotherapy.
Queenie is 25 and works in the culture section of a magazine’s editorial office for a meagre wage. Her pitches on topics related to Black Lives Matter are repeatedly rejected and she is given to understand that she can be grateful to have a position at all – there are many others like her. To compensate for the loss she feels at the ending of her relationship, Queenie has sex with countless men she meets through a dating app or at the office, which almost costs her her job. Many of these scenes are brutal and seem self-destructive. Her girlfriends, whom she affectionately calls the “Corgis” – because the Queen loves her dogs as Queenie loves her friends – are constantly at her side with advice. The novel includes many of their chat histories, which frequently entail them communicating to her in a more or less offensive way that she should take care of herself and possibly seek professional help. While reading, I also became uncomfortable about how few boundaries Queenie sets, and I was glad when the part of the book where she faces her problems began. This part also opens up greater depth of character, as it reveals that Queenie is carrying around some childhood trauma.
Queenie is Candice Carty-Williams celebrated debut. In an interview with Missy Magazine, the author explains that she chose the “Black-Bridget-Jones” label for her book herself. I had already wondered about this categorization on the bookcover, because it is typical for white critics to measure the quality of postcolonial works against those of white authors. But for Carty-Williams, this is strategic; she wanted to write a novel with mass popular appeal from a Black perspective. This is something the author herself felt was missing and now she has successfully managed to offer her readers a multi-layered insight into some very real-seeming daily life experiences. Of course, the fact that the protagonist is Black plays a role, but not exclusively. In its mixture of a light touch and wokeness, Queenie somehow reminds me of the Afro-German whodunnit crime thriller Black Madonna by Noah Sow, which is not anchored in the British but rather in the German context. If you’re looking for a humorous, easy-to-read book that is intelligent despite all the clichés about chick lit, Queenie is just the book for you.