Queenie—a feel-good novel of relationships, race, friendships and the occasional therapy session—is Candice Carty-Williams’ first novel, but she’s no rookie. Starting in publishing at the age of 23, Carty-Williams created and launched in 2016 the Guardian and 4th Estate BAME Short Story Prize, which focuses on and celebrates black, Asian and minority ethnic writers like herself. Here, she shares three books she’s recently enjoyed reading.
Lot by Bryan Washington
When I cracked open these short stories, I didn’t expect to be floored by Bryan Washington’s writing in the way that I was. I knew he’d be good, but I didn’t realize that he’d be this good. Lot is a one of those exceptionally told collections that give you such rich, lyrical snapshots of different parts of a place—in this case, Houston, Texas—that by the end you can see the whole area clearly even if you’ve never been there. And you can see the sharpest details of the lives of those living there. The opening of Lot is so arresting; you hit the ground running with it, and Washington’s prose is so quick that you’ve got no option but to keep moving through Houston the way his stories do. Mine and Bryan’s books came out on the same day in the U.S., so technically I should see him as a rival, but instead I can only admire from across the pond and hope to one day reach his levels.
Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn
One of my favourite novels of 2017 was easily Nicole Dennis-Benn’s first novel, Here Comes the Sun, and when her second, Patsy, was announced, I almost lost my mind. The richness of Dennis-Benn’s writing is taken to another level in Patsy, the story of a Jamaican woman working towards her own version of the American dream. When she secures her long-awaited visa, makes it to the U.S. and is reunited with her secret love Cicely, Dennis-Benn explores in such a textured, taut way what in love is gained, and what, or who, is left behind. One of the characters from Here Comes the Sun makes an appearance in Patsy, too, and if there’s anything that can make me more excited than a sequel, it’s two seemingly separate worlds connecting when you’re not expecting it. Bliss.
Frying Plantain by Zalika Reid-Benta
I know very little about Canada, and even less about how Jamaican culture sits within it, so this book is an utter treat for me. I’m really into the characters and people who are straddling two cultures and slotting into neither, given that so many of us second generation immigrants are, daily, and rarely give much time to examining the effects of that. Frying Plantain opens with young Canadian protagonist Kara Davis finding a dead pig’s frozen head in a freezer in Jamaica while looking for Ting and being mildly traumatized, while her Jamaican cousins couldn’t care less. Immediately we understand the world we’re about to enter, and how your identity being between and betwixt is so completely consuming. There are so many cultural touchpoints in this book for me straight from the off, and I, a second-generation Jamaican Brit, cannot get enough of the mentions of Jamaica, and how being there as a visitor can make you feel so at home, but so far from it.
Author photo by Lily Richards