Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

Her Debut novel brings home the necessity for White support of the Black Lives Matter movement in a heart wrenchingly honest way.

 

“It's not putting black lives on a pedestal, I don't even know what that means", I said, my heart beating fast. "It's saying that black lives, at this point, and historically, do not, and have not mattered, and that they should!”. I looked first at Gina, then around the room to see if anyone was going to back me up. Instead, I was met with what I'd been trying to pretend hadn't always been a room full of white not-quite-liberals whose opinions, like their money, had been inherited.”
- Carty-Williams, in Queenie

 

Lockdown has meant that we now have plenty of time for doing the things we wouldn't normally make time for, and reading is on the top of my list. Candice Carty-Williams’ first novel, Queenie is the first novel since lockdown which I haven't been able to put down, absorbing every word and page for two days straight, until the entire novel was engulfed. 

 

Carty-Williams achieves a novel about trauma, about the realities of racism that young Black women experience, about low self-esteem and self-destruction, but also a novel that you laugh along with as you read, with only love and care for the narrator Queenie - and extreme exasperation at times when she just Keeps. Making. Bad. Decisions. You root for Queenie as you would your best friend, and this novel brings to the surface the truths behind the black female identity in a way that opens your eyes and importantly, keeps them open. 

 

Carty-Williams' writing style brings you very close to Queenie; you are right there with her for every thought process, every decision, every anxiety attack and every point of self-denial and self-destruction. We, as readers, take comfort in the realisation that we’re not the only one’s feeling like this: it’s okay not to feel normal, to feel anxious in today’s world. 

 

This novel achieves exactly what F. Scott Fitzgerald believed literature should ever achieve: 'you discover that your longings are universal longings, that you're not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong’. 

 

However, Carty-Williams’ political commentary throughout elevates this novel from one that you can relate to, to one that inspires you to be more aware of the racial issues that still prevail in the UK. Queenie is a character every young woman will relate to, regardless of race. However, non-Black women will read this novel and begin to appreciate the different experiences between growing up as a Black woman compared to a White woman.

 

We become aware of the realities of White privilege, as Carty-Williams illuminates the social anxieties that come with being the only Black person in the room. She hones in on the brutality of gentrification as a process that pushes out minority communities, eradicates their culture, their food markets and their livelihoods, as their homes become rustic flats that they can no longer afford, and the spaces that proudly represented their culture are replaced with expensive vegan cafés that, again, they cannot afford. 

 

As Carty-Williams ensures we hear the Caribbean dialect of Queenie’s grandparents, she engulfs us into Caribbean culture and allows us to appreciate, respect and understand the cultural differences that we must be more inclusive of. 

 

In turn, the Black Lives Matter movement needs to be understood both nationally and globally, and the common misconceptions about the movement are another case in point in this novel. With the recent murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, it is crucial we promote and seek out literature like this, literature which encourages non-Black readers to learn, to understand, to be angry, and to act. 

 

It is not acceptable for the Black Lives Matter movement to be supported by Black people only, and being a non-racist is simply just not enough anymore. We need to actively eradicate racism when we see it and support our black minority communities, every single day of every single year.