Saturday 3 December 2022

Mis-sold by the marketers

Queenie In 2019 there was a lot of buzz around Candice Carty-Williams's debut novel Queenie. The marketing bods, of which Carty-Williams is one herself, did a sterling job. I was sold on the idea of a "smart and breezy comic debut", "astutely political, an essential commentary on everyday racism" in Black British life.

It starts when Queenie's boyfriend of three years, Tom, has just told her he wants a break. She interprets this to mean and then we'll get back together. However what he really means is that he wants to break up permanently.

So far so mid-twenties problems. I had to work hard to remember what life was like when I was 25, Queenie's age. I mean, the older you get, the easier it is to put life's problems into perspective. So yes, I admit that I rolled my eyes at the young woman's inability to accept her relationship was over, and tutted at the young man's weakness.

Pretty soon tho' it's obvious that for Queenie the episode is a catalyst for finally facing the demons she has kept locked up since childhood. Her life spirals out of control.

This isn't a "comic" situation. Even Kyazike, "pronounced 'chess-keh'", my favourite character, cannot lift the utter awfulness of what Queenie goes through. Her self-destructive behaviour is shocking, but even more difficult to read are the experiences that have led her to where she is. The last quarter of the book is filled with anguish.

What none of the blurb says is that this book is about abusive relationships and mental health problems, neither of which I would call "breezy". Don't get me wrong, it's a great book and the story needs telling, but if you're in a fragile mental state yourself go for Three Men in a Boat or The Uncommon Reader, or Good Behaviour. You won't get an understanding of casual racism, but at least they'll make you laugh and not cry.

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