Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
The British Book Awards AKA the Nibbies took place virtually this week and Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams was named Book of the Year as well as picking up Debut Book of the Year. Candice Carty-Williams becomes the first black writer to win this prestigious award, which is extremely well deserved but on another level is shocking.
First of all, a quick note, some of the publicity and reviews are calling this a 'Black Bridget Jones'. This is the equivalent of comparing breadsticks to a jigsaw. Both are great books but for me the only similarity is that both characters live in London. So please do not start this book expecting diary entries about weight loss and cigarettes smoked.
Queenie lives in London, works for a newspaper and is on a break from her boyfriend Tom. We witness the painful last throes of this relationship told through flashback before Queenie truly hits the self-destruct button; sleeping with a number of deeply unsuitable and worrisome men, nursing a bruised childhood, forgetting to eat and performing badly at work. All of this is played out against a background of racism, sexual harassment and the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
Now I apologise if I've made this book seem in any way gloomy because Queenie is truly wonderful, funny and uplifting! The opening chapters in the hospital as Queenie had a gynaecological exam had me howling! I adored Queenie's family; Her cleaning obsessed Grandmother, her water rates obsessed Grandfather, her deeply religious Auntie Maggie , sassy cousin Diana and her fragile bird-like Mother. Queenie's friends are equally awesome and I loved the use of whatsapp style conversations in the book between her friends. It felt modern and fresh.
As Queenie's mental health starts to crumble, we are given an insight into the Caribbean culture's attitude towards mental health and the perception that to seek help is something to be ashamed of and should always be kept 'in-house'. Queenie's journey through counselling is detailed and her family and friends rally round.
Queenie's low self opinion comes partially from her experiences as a black woman. For example, a woman in a club touches Queenie's hair and when Queenie protests is unfairly kicked out for 'causing trouble'. Queenie's dating experiences are truly horrific with men posting horrific messages about the colour of her skin and some treat her appallingly believing that the colour of her skin means she will be OK with it as if in some way she is a second class citizen.
Queenie's mental health journey is written sensitively. We don't have a pretty little band aid to 'cure' Queenie's mental health and she isn't magically made better forever. Instead, through counselling and support, Queenie's self-worth rises and this is the key message. Believe in yourself.
This novel feels real and is awesome. I loved the character Queenie and I loved her friends and family. The novel opens a window on being a young black woman in the UK and provides a spotlight on mental health. It is funny and awful and sad and ultimately joyous with a big heart. It is a very well deserved Book of the Year.