Review: People Person by Candice Carty-Williams
Candice Carty-Williams is best known for her immensely successful 2019 debut novel, Queenie. The novel led Carty-Williams to become the first black woman to win the Book of the Year accolade at the British Book Awards in June 2020. There is a TV series in the works too, a Channel 4 eight-episode adaptation of Queenie due to be broadcast in 2023.
Personally I didn’t fall in love with Queenie, the way many people did, disliking the repetitive insertion of group-chat messages and larger than life characters. However, its head on confrontation with topics such as race, discrimination, contraception and violence were powerful enough for me to be interested in what Carty-Williams wrote next.
People Person is her second novel, following Dimple and her four siblings, or half-siblings, who share a father they do not really know. They meet only once during their childhood, when their usually absent father Cyril Pennington brings them together, much to the chagrin of their four different mums. However, fast-forward fifteen years and a dramatic event brings all five siblings back into each other’s lives.
People Person was always going to be a tricky follow up from the lockdown bestseller, but it shares both Queenie’s strengths and its weaknesses.
The commentary on everyday racism matches the success of this in Queenie. While the tone of the book is comic, there is a constant undercurrent and reminder of the discrimination and microaggressions Black people experience in Britain. It is a book almost exclusively populated by Black people, mostly Black women, while white people occupy the margins of the pages. The police are an ever present concern, but remain absent from the novel due to the characters’ deep mistrust and avoidance of them.
I also enjoyed the circular nature of the book, with its patterns of mirroring and looping, which can be seen in the plot, between the siblings and within the different generations of family. However, the novel didn’t fully do its plot justice. People Person was dominated by weak or cliched dialogue, interspersed with clunky descriptions, before returning to extended chunks of speech.
The protagonist, Dimple, is a not-that-successful influencer. It felt like a feeble depiction of an influencer, only brushing the surface of the complexities of an age of Instagram, and sticking in the realm of the obvious. Dimple is thirty, with her siblings a similar age, yet they read like adults written as teenagers and for teenagers. In fact, I reckon Carty-Williams would be fantastic at writing young adult fiction, but here her characters seemed lost in a perpetual realm of teenagehood. Perhaps it is intentional, a display of the effect of their childhood lacking love and support from a father figure, but I couldn’t be sure, given it was a trait even characters outside the family shared.
The moments of action were the strongest elements of the book, and this propelled it on quickly. It was, admittedly, a difficult book to put down, and the twists and turns of the early sections had me hooked. It just got a bit lost in between times, as the pace slowed.
A couple of convenient plot points later and the novel reached a satisfying, if too-neat, conclusion. Overall I couldn’t say I didn’t enjoy it, but it isn’t going to be a book I rush to recommend or to reread.