Do you know this awful feeling when you know you should like a book but you just don’t. Sadly this is what my experience with Queenie has been. It’s an important book in its honesty, but I just couldn’t get into it, constantly being pulled out of focus by my annoyance with the main character.
I got this book at Bookshop.org in one of those attempts to explore what everyone was raving about. I heard it mentioned a lot, but never really dug into what it is about. So I was happy to be surprised.
Queenie, our main character, is a twenty-five years old woman, living in London and working in a magazine, where she constantly strives to pitch an article that would finally tell something closer to the black experience. Queenie lives with Tom her white boyfriend. But things are not going well. Actually, we meet Queenie when she finds out she miscarried. From there, things quickly spiral out of control. Tom wants them to ‘take a break’, so Queenie moves in with her grandparents.
She completely loses focus on her work, throws herself into a spiral of partying, drinking and abusive one-night stands. She has three close friends that she brings together in a Whatsapp group called ‘Corgis’. Each of them is different but they are endlessly supportive. In fact, we never find out much about any of them because Queenie is constantly the center of attention.
The situation progresses and we find out about Queenie’s difficult relationship with her mother. Finally, she hits rock bottom and decides to go into therapy. But you don’t really need a therapist to unpick Queenie’s relentless vying for attention and acceptance. It’s one of those characters that you care about, but that also drives you nuts. There were multiple times when I was wondering why one of her friends didn’t kick her ass for being so self-obsessed and blind to other people.
All this happens against the background of south London and Black Lives Matter movement. There are many spot-on observations on racial micro and macro aggressions and the everyday discrimination that takes place. I just couldn’t get over Queenie’s personality.
In a way, it reads like an updated Bridget Jones Diary, and I know I will probably get hit on the head for that. But for me it did, a more brutal version for sure, because the times are a lot more brutal. But the essence is very similar. If you can get over Queenie’s personality then I’m sure it is an equally enjoyable book. Filled with tenderness for the main character, but also speaking to more universal experiences of being a black woman and of being a single woman.
I clearly lacked empathy and could not get over my annoyance with Queenie. Which is sad.
Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska