There’s a certain currency to a life in London, just as surely as there’s a certain currency to being in your twenties and that’s exactly what Candice Carty-Williams’ novel Queenie so perfectly embodies. It’s also the reason why so many critics are likening this novel to Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary, which so symbolized my own era, the 1990s, and how we operated. This is why, despite the eponymous Queenie being a black woman in her twenties, the novel speaks to any and every woman. None of us can forget what it’s like to be at the start of it all; to be lovely and have potential, to be desired but also to be absolutely clueless as to what it is that we actually want or need.
My own twenties, once I got beyond student age and travelling, were spent working in a couple of small London PR agencies, in an environment not so different to Queenie’s newspaper. In my first ‘proper’ job, I had two very dear friends who worked alongside me. In the absence of phones and texting, each morning, break and lunch would be spent in a flurry of analysis. We would discuss our romantic encounters, the weekend or even possibly, our latest work crisis. We went out always; to events, parties, the races whatever was going. We didn’t stop for a second to ask ourselves if this was what we wanted to do, it was just what we did. I didn’t appreciate what I had at the time, but I do retrospectively. My first job in London was probably, as a period of time, the most fun I ever had, and don’t get me wrong, life has had many wonderful times since.
Reading Queenie is a joy, even if the subject matter is often surprisingly real. Queenie is a black woman, who until very recently was in a loving relationship with a white guy, Tom. Aware of the systemic racism that’s all around her, Queenie’s life begins to come apart at the seams when the two split up. She has a few incredibly close friends from different parts of her life, who she affectionately names The Corgis. These women support her, mostly without question, when it comes to her life decisions, particularly with regard to men. What they can’t do, is to sort her out when Queenie starts to spiral, and has a hard time asking for the help she needs.
Queenie is so very different from me and yet, I really loved and enjoyed reading this novel. It made me happy on a very fundamental level and reminded me of the enormous importance our friends and family play in holding us up during the hard times. I may not be in my twenties anymore but there’s a universal enjoyment to Carty-Williams’s writing, that just simply should not be missed.