‘Queenie’ by Candice Carty- Williams Review: Black British women get the spotlight

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams was published in March of this year but buzz around the story built up well before its release. This is partly due to it being a contemporary fiction novel where an everyday Black British woman takes centre stage. It’s being hailed as the ‘black Bridget Jones’ (it’s not). I find it telling that a simple narrative such as Queenie’s doesn’t have anything to compare it to. It shouldn’t need a comparison to sell it, but if it reminds me of anything, it’s actually more like a British Insecure.

It’s a sweet, funny, but at times quite a somber story about a woman in her mid-20s struggling with heartbreak, mental health issues and all the other typical worries that come with being a new adult.  She’s very flawed, often frustrating but still lovable. It sincerity and honesty received glowing reviews from writers like Jojo Moyes and Dolly Alderton, so I had to grab a copy.

What I loved

  • If you are 20-30 something, black and living in London, it is probably the most relatable novel you have ever read. Queenie lives in South London, talks religion with her aunty on the bus to Lewisham and gets disappointed by the gentrified nightlife in Brixton. At its core, it is a tale of a young Londoner and their quarter-life crisis. A familiar story but her black background and the London flavouring gives it a new edge.
  • The story dives into issues that are top of mind for most young adults: mental health ( particularly in the black community), sex, career woes and figuring out what type of person you want to be.
  • Dialogue is the strongest part of the story. I can hear my cousins, my friends and my colleagues so well. Outside of the traditional dialogue, Williams also includes texts,  group chat messages and emails. These messages ring so true to how our generation uses tech for banter and as a source of regular support. I found myself giggling a lot, like I was reading someone’s group chat. I even screenshotted some parts and shared it with friends.

What I didn’t love

  • While the dialogue is strong, I think the narrative around it fell short. Imagine a camera lens struggling to find a focal point. Some parts were too detailed, some not detailed enough. It didn’t propel the story in the way it should have. The dialogue did all the heavy lifting.
  • Some of the themes the book touched on didn’t always tie together well in my opinion or could have taken on a more subtle expression. For example, gentrification was brought up at several points of the story but it didn’t actually affect the plot or the characters in any substantial way. While it’s a hot topic, I just don’t think it was necessary.
  • The story also pauses at points to act as the microphone for Candance’s views. It is clear we are at the part of the story where we discuss a Topic™. At those points, I felt pushed out of the story and that now I was reading an opinion piece. Opinions I agree with no doubt, but the way they were brought into the story was quite clunky at times.

Final Verdict

I read it in 4 days. I was excited to spend time with Queenie and her friends, in their very familiar hometown. I laughed with her and was frustrated with her and was proud of her. I didn’t put it down very much. I had a few issues with the writing, the flow, and the structure but I think it’s definitely worth a read! Queenie is a little peek into a community that is only just starting to get a space on shelves.