The Queen of Whale Cay – Kate Summerscale

There is no better way to describe this novel than truth really is stranger than fiction. In fact I’m going to follow Margot from Project Lectito and say after reading this biography Joe Carstairs would most definitely be one of the five people dead or alive I would want to have dinner with. If, like I was, you are completely unaware who Joe Carstairs is firstly she was the fasted woman on the water in the 1920’s. Born to an American oil heiress and a British army caption, Joe was born Marion Barbara Carstairs and worked as a driver during WWI. Post-war she named herself Joe, dressed as a man and embarked on affairs with a host of actresses and young women while aspiring to be the fastest woman on water. Eventually she tired of the limelight and the fickle whims of the media and bought an island in the Bahamas to live on with the love of her life Lord Tod Wadley, a doll given to her by her girlfriend Ruth. On Whale Cay she built a thriving community, championed for the rights of the Bahamians and threw debaucherous parties.


Joe Carstairs was an enigma, a more fascinating person you will not find. From her childhood and relationship with her mother to her flair for the dramatics and practical jokes. To Lord Tod Wadley and her many girlfriends, to her lifelong generosity and passion for the local Bahaminans and mission to make them self-sufficient. Joe had many contrasting personality traits, both negative and positive in equal amounts but regardless she always meant well. All I can say really is read this book! To go into more detail is to spoil all these amazing stories for all you potential readers.


Summerscale’s writing and tone was a highlight of the book, apart from Carstair’s escapades of course. Her comments speculating on the psychology of Corsair’s actions were well-placed and not ver-done. There was not too much or too little detail. This biography engages the reader throughout. The photographs and other mages were a great addition to add to the readers experience. Overall, this was a great non-fiction read for a giggle and a unique story that if someone were to fictionalise would be thought to be over the top and too ridiculous. While many of Carstair’s actions were laughable and entertaining she had much more depth than one might initially assume. I give The Queen of Whale Cay four dolls to keep Lord Tod Wadley company.


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