Queenie is a twenty-five-year-old Black woman living in south London, straddling Jamaican and British culture whilst slotting neatly into neither. She works at a national newspaper where she’s constantly forced to compare herself to her white, middle-class peers, and beg to write about Black Lives Matter. After a messy break up from her long-term white boyfriend, Queenie finds herself seeking comfort in all the wrong places.
As Queenie veers from one regrettable decision to another, she finds herself wondering, What are you doing? Why are you doing it? Who do you want to be? – the questions that every woman today must face in a world that keeps trying to provide the answers for them.
A darkly comic and bitingly subversive take on life, love, race and family, Queenie will have you nodding in recognition, crying in solidarity and rooting for this unforgettable character every step of the way. A disarmingly honest, boldly political and truly inclusive tale that will speak to anyone who has gone looking for love and acceptance and found something very different in its place.
I am cautious how to begin this review. I was asked to read this for a WI book club, prompted by the #blacklivesmatter movement (yes, I am a member of a LOT of book clubs, it justifies my spending habit!!)
However, when you read the back cover it is described as “a darkly comic and bitingly subversive take on life, love, race and family”. In this context the book works well, race is only a quarter of the narrative, and so it lives up to its blurb. Grandma is a wit, the rich patois with which she speaks adds to the comedy of the novel – I would actually say she is more my favourite character than the eponymous Queenie.
Queenie herself lives a tragi-comic life, supported in all her trials and tribulations by her “Corgis” Darcy, Kyazike and Cassandra (though her role is later diminished). The long lost love interest Tom makes this a satisfying chick-lit narrative. However with Queenie’s sexual exploits darker questions are raised about the fetishization of black people by white men; men who use Queenie for sex purely because she is black. There are some rather graphic scenes, especially when Queenie is forced to visit a sexual health clinic. It is at the clinic that counselling is suggested to her.
This is where the book takes a more sinister turn and the narrative about race is amplified; the phrase #blacklivesmatter is even embedded in the narrative. This is a text as much about how Queenie sees her race as much as how other people see her. However, it feels like an add on to the evolution of the character. It is almost as though the latter part of the book was written at a different time to the beginning. The writer herself is a journalist, a column writer and there is almost a sketch like feel to some of the chapters, there isn’t quite that flow in narrative you would get if a novel had been conceived of as a narrative whole. It feels, as it nears the end, that it tries to include a level of racial politics that it hadn’t needed at the beginning – Queenie’s character was rich and diverse, her experiences a more graphic Bridget Jones style of narrative. However, maybe the racial politics are only realised by Queenie herself as a result of the probing questions of Janet her therapist and the kindly, yet OCD routine of her Jamaican grandparents.
So on narrative structure, not racial politics, I can offer this novel 4 stars. There are some moments of comic brilliance, some scenes of sexual violence that make the reader sit up and think, but for me I wouldn’t have picked it for book club this week. Still, it’s definitely worth a read.
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