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THE QUEEN OF WHALE CAY by Kate Summerscale


The Eccentric Story of ``Joe'' Carstairs, Fastest Woman on Water

by Kate Summerscale

Pub Date: May 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-670-88018-3
Publisher: Viking

In this superbly written biography, Summerscale brings to life the extraordinary and eccentric “Joe— Carstairs. A London Times bestseller and already nominated for the Whitbread Biography of the Year Prize, this volume takes empathetic hold of an enterprising, cross-dressing woman bent on devouring the world whole. Marion “Joe” Carstairs was heiress to the Standard Oil fortune and clearly predestined to eccentricity. Her childhood was emotionally arid. Her mother early succumbed to men, drink, and drugs. Marion was by nature a provocateur and lived to challenge the sexual morals of her day. By the 1920s she had seen the battlefield and the barroom, found her identity as a heavy-smoking, tattooed lesbian, distinguished herself as a record-breaking speedboat racer, and become the self-fashioned ruler of Whale Cay, a small Bahamian island she purchased with her considerable personal fortune. Any one of these might have made her unique; the combination made her positively fascinating. In a life “powered by her money, Joe lifted herself clear of censure by dint of nerve and speed.— She lived and loved relentlessly, visibly, and famously. (The Windsors, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich were but a few of her cohorts.) But somewhere within was a heart the beat only for Lord Tod Wadley, a leather-faced, Steiff doll of a man to whom she was unendingly devoted. Their personalities were bizarrely entwined. Ultimately, Carstairs’s lust for privacy, and for control, was so great that it threatened to consume her. The dazzling and enigmatic life she led soon faded from view. Not until Summerscale, obituaries editor of the Daily Telegraph at the time of Carstairs’s death in 1993, set out to research anomalies in the sketchy details of her life did it all come back. Stylistically restrained and well paced, this unforgettable tale of one woman’s raw hunger for immortality needed no more than this eloquent telling to lift clear off the page. Captivating fun. (44 b&w photos, not seen) (Author tour)