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Candice Carty-Williams Weaves A Beautifully Uncomfortable Story With ‘Queenie’

March 22, 2023

We all read for different reasons. Some of us merely want to be entertained, while others look to literature as a form of escape. There are those, in my opinion the brave ones, who read about the world as it is – nonfiction. Queenie is one of those reads that allows the reader to both escape and introspect at the same time. In short, reading Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams was beautifully uncomfortable.

Set in London, readers are transported into a familiar 20-something experience following the life of Queenie, a British-Caribbean young professional. Throughout the novel, it’s clear that Queenie isn’t happy. Interestingly, I remembered my own mother commenting on how happiness is a little over rated from time to time. That isn’t to say that seeking happy moments is trivial, but that happiness in the ways that are commonly perceived should not be the only quantifiers of a “good” life. Perhaps as a Black woman who survived apartheid South Africa, happiness is getting to live out of poverty. Perhaps happiness is knowing that her social freedoms are protected by law. Regardless of how happiness is defined, it’s interesting to note that society encourages a pursuit of happiness that doesn’t always consider the process of that pursuit. This novel perfectly narrates the uncomfortable process of seeking happiness, wellness more specifically.

Seldom do we consider sexual encounters as forms of self harm. In the last few years, partly due to greater connectivity online, people are speaking openly about what they’re learning in therapy. It was on TikTok that I realised how certain sexual activities could be considered as forms of self harm. While reading Queenie, Candice eases her readers deeper and deeper into Queenie’s story that you begin to understand just how insidious this form of self harm could be.

Aside from what goes on in her personal life, we see how Queenie experiences and responds to a depression that she doesn’t have the language to fully express. Not only do we see her grappling with how she feels, as readers it’s almost as if we are rooting for her to find the words and get the help that she clearly needs. You know a book is good, you know that you’re feeling the story when you want to throw the book across the room or tear out a page.

One of the most uncomfortable storylines was Queenie’s relationship with Blackness and romantic settings. More and more, the conversation around how Black women are treated in society, how Black women experience romance in the Black community, draws attention to our mistreatment. There is an expectation for Black women to accept meagre scraps while their non-BIPOC counterparts are understood to have “standards” in comparison.

One would imagine that with such heavy subject material Queenie would be a difficult read. Yet somehow Candice finds a way to both entertain her reader while holding their heart in her hand and pumping manually. To reiterate, this work is beautifully uncomfortable much like Black womanhood, even in its difficulty and strife, can be beautiful; even though it is often punctuated by discomfort. Suffice to say, regardless of why you read, Queenie as one of those novels that deserves our collective attention.

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