I’ve finally got around to reading this much talked-about novel. I had very mixed feelings. I’m puzzled by the insistence from various critics that it’s hilarious, a romcom, or both. Almost every piece of praise on or inside the cover mentions how funny the book is. There were certainly a few funny moments, but towards the latter half of the book the content was quite grim. As for the romcom, there was no romance – a break-up which happened before the story began and a string of awful dates with abusive men. On that topic, there was not a decent male character in the whole book (Queenie’s grandfather excepted) and white men in particular are all racists who fetishize black women, using them for sex while only romantically committing to white women. That is the angle the author has taken and I’m not doubting there is sometimes truth behind it, yet there were a lot of stereotypes in this book and every encounter turned out the same way.
The story is narrated by 26-year-old Queenie, who works for a newspaper and lives in South London. A black millennial woman of Jamaican background, she constantly worries about not fitting in, gentrification, failing at relationships and her difficult family past which has seen her traumatised and estranged from her mum. Queenie has a diverse bunch of friends who love her for who she is. She does tend to whine to them and they are always the ones supporting her, not the other way around. There is a mental health theme to the book, particularly towards the end, which on the one hand is realistic but on the other hand is difficult to wade through. What I most liked about the book was the dialogue, description of settings and thought-provoking messages about race and gender politics. I wasn’t so keen on the characterisation, the graphic sex (or the gynaecology appointments…) and the plot losing its way somewhat, resulting in an underwhelming conclusion.
I’d recommend the book, with the caution that it doesn’t match the romcom packaging and has some elements which will divide opinion. It’s a confident debut and I’ll be interested to see what Candice Carty-Williams publishes next.
First published in 2019.