When Queenie was published in 2019, it was widely marketed as “a black Bridget Jones”. That’s an intriguing description, but Candice Carty-Williams has said it doesn’t accurately reflect the content and character of her debut novel. “That’s how I thought of her in the beginning, too. But this book is also naturally political just because of who Queenie is. She’s not Bridget Jones. She never could be,” she told Stylist magazine.
My edition of Queenie is blurbed by Dolly Alderton, Candace Bushnell, and Bernardine Evaristo – which should give you a good read on the “vibe” of its contents.
The titular main character of this new adult novel is 25 years old, the granddaughter of Jamaican migrants, barely hanging onto her job at a newspaper, and frantic over the breakdown of her relationship with her fiance. Well, technically they’re “on a break”, but Tom is barely replying to Queenie’s messages and calls, so things aren’t looking good.
It might sound like the stuff of fluffly rom-coms, but Queenie isn’t exactly a light read. She’s in one heck of a self-destructive spiral for most of the book, she has a lot of below-average sex with very shitty men, and as a character she’s quite self-absorbed. I’ll offer a bit of a trigger warning here for miscarriage, mental illness (anxiety), and abusive relationships. So, yeah – Bridget Jones it ain’t.
Carty-Williams was spot on when she described Queenie as inherently political – micro-aggressions run rife throughout the novel. It’s a startling, and accurate, reflection of the lived experience of young black women in metropolitan areas like London. Take, for instance, Queenie seeking comfort at her favourite Caribbean bakery – only to find that the building has been taken over in the increasingly gentrified neighbourhood, and it’s now a burger joint full of “white kids holding colourful cans of beer”. She’s endlessly fetishised on dating apps, strangers try to touch her hair in clubs, her boss turns down her Black Lives Matter story on the flimsiest of excuses, and there’s only one other woman in her office who looks like her. Most galling of all, her (white) almost-ex fiance refused to say anything about his uncle’s “jokes” at family gatherings. Ew.
Some of the singularly British nuances escaped me – especially the geography. I expect that disappointment over the gentrification of Brixton would resonate more for readers more familiar with London geography. A lot of the humour missed me, too. The only character that really roused a smile out of me was Queenie’s bestie, Kyazike. She wasn’t “comic relief”, but she was forthright, energetic, and fun – she totally jumped off the page.
Carty-Williams did leave in a nod to the Bridget Jones parallels, in the name of Queenie’s other bestie – Darcy.
Even though Queenie has it very rough over the course of the novel, her story comes to a satisfying end – one that isn’t too neat, but leaves you with hope for her future.
Queenie is, I think, emblematic of an interesting direction in the New Adult and Romantic Comedy categories – books that look like the light-hearted reads we remember, but actually have hidden depths. It’s difficult to “enjoy” a book like this, but it’s still highly readable and surprisingly insightful.
My favourite Amazon reviews of Queenie:
- “Queenie is a hot mess lol.” – Niya P
- “”For fans of Luster” that was the clue I missed. I’ve read Luster and it was gross. Queenie made me feel like I needed several showers and an exorcism.” – Hgaines
- “Though people put themselves through these horrible experiences of having lots of casual sex, I don’t want to read about it. I would rather not be educated in this fashion about all the social issues the author is bringing forward. If I were her mother, I would wash her mouth out with soap. The chapter where she goes to Midnight Mass was the last straw — completely irreverent and disrespectful. Must the vicar who is singing be made fun of?” – Alexis Farrell