Queenie is the brilliant debut novel by Candice Carty-Williams about a young, black woman in south London dealing with work, friends and sex, whilst battling against unrelenting racism and dealing with childhood trauma, which together unsurprisingly lead to dangerously low self-esteem and mental health issues. If this sounds like a grim read, it isn’t – it is told with an incredible lightness and wit, and it’s the factual approach to the way Queenie is treated appallingly by almost everyone around her that makes it all the more shocking.
Queenie has broken up with Tom, an awful boyfriend who sides with his racist relatives instead of sticking up for and standing by her, but she is desperate to have him back and blames herself for the end of their relationship. She has also just found out that she has had a miscarriage, is struggling to keep it together at work, and turns to her group of friends for support, as she ricochets from one abusive sexual encounter to another. On the surface her friends are there for her, but they don’t intervene as things start to really unravel for Queenie, or when her white, liberal friend Cassandra turns on her viscously when she needs her the most. It’s only when Queenie has experienced sexual violence so bad that a nurse at the GUM clinic intervenes that Queenie is finally offered the help she needs.
Reading about the daily reality of racism was a serious reminder that white people usually spend almost no time thinking about the lived experienced of black people in the UK, and what it means to have to deal with people who brand you aggressive when you are politely asking them to stop being racist, who treat you as a sexual object, or who constantly think it is OK to touch, or comment on, your hair. The racism around black women’s hair is a theme that runs throughout the book and there is a brilliant line about a third of the way through: ‘I got off the bus, I made an internal list of people who could touch my hair. 1) Me 2) A hairdresser 3) That’s it, that’s the whole list’.
Everyone, especially white people, should read this brilliant book.