Queenie was a book I’d heard a lot about, though nobody I know seems to have read it. It’s being touted as Bridget Jones meets Americanah. I disliked Bridget Jones intensely, and have never heard of Americanah so it was with some trepidation that I picked this up.
Initially I found it quite hard to warm to Queenie. She’s loud, brash at times, would be incredibly frustrating to work with and is definitely used to using sex to gloss over potential issues. I found myself virtually screaming at the page at her inability to seem to talk to her boyfriend or manage to present herself in a focused way at work. It was like watching an overgrown teenager wandering round, complaining that nobody understood them, putting themselves in stupid situations and then being surprised when someone took advantage of them.
Quite early on we learn that Queenie is dumped by her boyfriend. As she recounts some of her ‘fond’ memories of him I found myself thinking he came from a fairly prejudiced background, was spineless beyond belief and thinking that the pair of them should never have got together in the first place. Once she’s moved into shared accommodation Queenie seems to hit the rapid self-destruct button.
She lurches from one abusive sexual encounter to another. Most of her experiences – whether it’s the sex itself or the people who mop up afterwards – show what could best be described as a complicit attitude to the racism and prejudice that is referenced.
At a point quite early on I considered not reading on. Then we got some snippets of information about Queenie’s past experiences. We are given indicators that she is manipulated in certain situations. And we meet her grandparents…this was enough to make me stick with it.
As we see Queenie get to a pretty low point and then watch her start to confront some of her demons I came to almost like her. Intensely frustrating, very high-maintenance but disarmingly candid and very warm-hearted. Queenie’s past with her mother and Roy went some way to explaining some of her attitudes/behaviours. The exploration of her mental health and steps she takes to move forward were important. She’s not going to be a character many would admire from the outset, but her grit makes her quite unforgettable.