On the exam table, bracing herself for a gynaecological examination, the book begins with Queenie texting her boyfriend:
“Queenie: ‘In the stirrups now. Wish you were here.’“
What starts as a vaguely happy-go-lucky “getting to grips with being a grown-up” story of drunken-ness, unfortunate sex, hangovers at work, difficult family relationships, becomes incrementally darker as Queenie spirals down.
Queenie is a 25 year old, black London woman who is having boyfriend troubles and work trouble. She is a size 16 (UK), and I mention this because she does, frequently and to good purpose, to illustrate the everyday, persistent objectification of “curvaceous” black women in the west. She has some hideous encounters, mainly with white men via dating apps.
The boyfriend asks for “a break”, but the rules aren’t clear. She starts drinking until she passes out. She has casual and sometimes violent sex. Her friends are tight and caring but also living their own lives – some of which are shown with a wonderfully comic touch – and therefore sometimes out of reach: they orbit away but always swing back.
Then there are her relatives: an absent father, an abusive step-dad, a mum beaten (metaphorically and physically) into submission, a domineering Jamaican grandmother and the “quiet life” grandfather, and her 15 year old cousin Diana. And there is The Church. The routines imposed on Queenie when forced to live back her grandparents are hilarious and also soul destroying. But Carty-Williams also tackles the unwillingness of these groups and generations to admit the reality of mental ill-health: Queenie’s grandmother has a lot to say about “bearing burdens” and has little truck with counselling or psychotherapy.
This book is blast, a big, booming blast. It is a fast read, with some genuine laugh out loud moments. It mixes up prose, email and text-speak to good effect. Its the kind of book you can wrap yourself up in and lose yourself for a couple of hours. It is fast but it is not simple or slight. It has things to say, things that need to be heard.