Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

queenie.jpg

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”. 

 

Memories of the Future by Siri Hustvedt

Memories of the Future.jpg

Siri Hustvedt has never been afraid to go against the grain, and her seventh novel, Memories of the Future, confirms it. She has important things to say about sexual politics, capitalism and art but enjoying this book as a reader means relinquishing the desire for the plot to make linear, logical sense. 

Those of us who love her work will consider it worth the mental switch, and there is a great deal of transformative joy to be found in this story of a young woman arriving in New York to find her voice as a writer. The 23-year-old in question is later known by the initials “SH” and is nicknamed “Minnesota”, the state Hustvedt herself is from. 

The similarities between the author and her fictional heroine don’t end there: as a student, Hustvedt looked pale enough with hunger for a university professor to encourage her to ask for an emergency loan. In the novel, SH rescues a cheese sandwich from a garbage bin so that she will have something to eat.