The titular heroine of Candice Carty-Williams’s Queenie begins the book with her legs in stirrups, undergoing a gynaecological exam. This sets the tone for a debut novel that is a candid and funny, no-holds-barred exploration of a young black woman’s life.
The colour of Queenie’s skin is absolutely not incidental: she is exoticised by men on dating apps, in the street and even in her office. She notes this with humour, exasperated at “men calling me confectionery” as they tell her she “tastes like chocolate”. But what makes Queenie so appealing is that this doesn’t stop her from sleeping with these men — she feels utterly, fallibly real.
The casual sex she has after breaking up with her long-term boyfriend is frequent and random, but what makes it disturbing is that it is violent enough to leave her with injuries that alarm a sexual-health adviser sufficiently for her to recommend counselling. Queenie is funny throughout this: smart enough to recognise that a man she is in bed with is unable to take a second to “step out of his own pleasure and see that I didn’t like what was going on”, but also wry about the sexual-health adviser who looked “like she’d heard it all in the Sixties and was tired of it”.