The Queen of Whale Cay by Kate Summerscale

The Queen of Whale Cay

When Marion "Joe" Carstairs died in 1993 at the age of ninety-three, she was largely forgotten. During the 1920s she held the world record as the fastest female speedboat racer. But as journalist Kate Summerscale discovered, when researching an obituary for the Daily Telegraph, Carstairs was also a notorious crossdresser who favored women and smoked cheroots. Supremely self-confident, she inherited a Standard Oil fortune and knew how to spend her...

Details The Queen of Whale Cay

TitleThe Queen of Whale Cay
Release DateJun 1st, 1999
PublisherPenguin Books
GenreBiography, Nonfiction, LGBT, GLBT, Queer, History, Biography Memoir

Reviews The Queen of Whale Cay

  • Ammie
    I started reading this because of the jacket blurb. At first it was just a description of an interesting memoir, the life story of a person who was the 1920's fastest female speedboat racer and eventually ruled her own island in the Bahamas, only to be forgotten in her old age. But here's the last sentence: "Through it all, she remained devoted to Lord Tod Wadley, a little doll who became the bosom companion of one of the twentieth century's grea...
  • Ivan
    I saw this slim volume in the store and was fascinated by the picture on the cover - a woman dressed as a man with a little battered doll on her shoulder - "what in the world is this?" So, I started to read. What a surprise. This is the story of Marion "Joe" Carstairs, a Standard Oil heiress, a champion speed boat driver, friend to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, an unrepentant lesbian, owner of the Caribbean isalnd Whale Cay, and the constant c...
  • Andie
    This was one of those great finds that I sometimes unearth at the dollar store - the story of "Joe" Carstairs, a wealthy transgender who became famous for racing speedboats and later, buying her own private island in the Bahamas where she constructed her own society living openly with other women.What would have been regarded at the time as both deviant and illegal, was for Carstiars regarded merely as eccentric. Money talks.
  • Margot McGovern
    First, HOW WAS JOE CARSTAIRS NOT ON MY RADAR BEFORE NOW??!! I mean, what a life! From the literary salons of Paris, to the Bright Young People's parties in London, to grand adventures and love affairs with movies stars on a private island—the life of Joe Carstairs was that most wonderful of cliche's: stranger than fiction. Don't even get me started on Lord Tod Wadley. You cannot make this stuff up. Even before I finished the book, I'd added Joe...
  • Kit Eyre
    Summerscale has a knack for picking peculiar subjects and Joe Carstairs is no different. The portrait she paints of Carstairs is of a complex woman with so many faces - the racer, the pirate, the lover - that it's difficult to keep track. For everything to like about Carstairs, though, there's something to balance it out. Her selfishness, for instance, never dims. Her peculiarities were only tolerated because of her wealth (at least in traditiona...
  • Waffle
    I greatly enjoyed the story of this woman's interesting and entirely bizarre life. I picked it up for a dollar at a library booksale just to see if it was good, and I am glad I came across it. I do think that it could have been better organized and edited, and I agree with other reviewers that some of the author's attempts to guess at Joe's motivations and true feelings were unfounded and weird. And I really did not understand why she drew parall...
  • Melody
    I liked the subject of this biography so much that I was almost able to ignore the writing. It was patchy, jumpy, and odd. There were bits that made me roll my eyes, and bits that made me hiss- mostly assumptions on the part of the author. I'd like to read an in-depth biography of Carstairs by a genuine biographer rather than an obituary writer, I think, but I'm glad I read this one.
  • Thing Two
    There is nothing inherently wrong with this book about a 1930s era billionaire who raced boats, dressed like a man, played with dolls, and then bought herself an island, I'm just not sure why she merited her own biography. She got my fifteen minutes of attention ... or four hours of reading.
  • Sportyrod
    Eccentric, original, bizarre. What could be less ordinary than a British woman born in 1900 dressing as a man and being completely obsessed with a doll? An author could not hope for a more interesting real life character to write about.Miss ‘Joe’ Carstairs lived an interesting life. Part dream, part reality and everything in between. Raised by a drug addicted mother and coming into a grand inheritance at a young age both warped and shaped her...
  • Graham
    Like many readers, my first exposure to Kate Summerscale was THE SUSPICIONS OF MR WHICHER, a remarkable non-fiction crime book which managed to make a story based purely on historical documentation a real page-turner. THE QUEEN OF WHALE CAY is no follow-up, but in fact Summerscale's first book, published back in the 1990s. It's a short, straightforward, slightly fragmented biography of Joe Carstairs, a real bon vivant who turns out to be one of t...
  • Shatterlings
    This was such an interesting read, cross dressing lesbians of the 1920s led such extraordinary lives. Though the doll thing was weird and kind of creepy, he even had his own bible and golf clubs.
  • eileen
    While the intriguing life of Carstair is a 5 star story, this book's writing is 2 stars.
  • Johanne
    Interesting, I doubt I'd have liked Joe Carstairs if I'd have met her but its always good to be reminded that there was a lesbian subculture back in the 1920s (albeit a rich white one - as least as far as the books show. Other than that its a testament to the life of a person with tons of money and some odd ideas. On the other hand there is something admirable about someone who so resolutely ignores all the conventions and does their own thing. I...
  • Andrew Reid
    I loved this book. What an incredible character Carstairs was; speed racer on sea and land, self styled pirate, hunter, womaniser, benevolent dictator (mostly) of her own island kingdom, trickster and loyal supporter of those she felt had supported her. I like to think I'd love to have met her, but in truth she'd probably have frightened the pants off me. Summerscale paints a vivid portrait of an eccentric and complicated woman, who invented and ...
  • Lizzie
    This was filled with all of the small details and strange quirks that can really place you on the margins of someone else's life. What I remember most clearly was the passion, loss, and drama that defined Joe's war years and carousing 20s. The 30s continued to compel with a certain charm and drama, but the remainder of the book was a sad slide away from all that possibility into a bizarre colonialism in miniature and a decent into irrelevance.
  • Lynne
    Written in the tradition of stories about the lives of adventurous, nonconforming women such as Beryl Markham, this book never quite gives a real sense of the appeal of the eccentric, cross-dressing Joe Carstairs (other than her money), but it does leave the reader shaking her head over her antics.
  • Michaela
    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 ...
  • Val Robson
    I really should have given up reading this book when I was sickened and disturbed by chapter 3 entitled 'The action of testicular pulp' which details experiments done on animals to try to prove a theory that testicular matter can heal wounds and even more fanciful gains in animals and potentially humans. It just got more and more gross and, not surprisingly, nothing was proved except a lot of pain and trauma on innocent animals and the occasional...
  • nina
    A while back I read Mrs Robinson's Disgrace by Kate Summerscale, a book I enjoyed immensely (and then proceeded to push on to anyone who would listen - no regrets). Obviously, I then decided to find everything else Summerscale has written and add to my reading listThis time Summerscale's subject is Marion Barbara Carstairs who lived out her life as Joe Carstairs, rejecting gender roles (lived out her life as a chap), rejecting the expectations of...
  • Lionel Denny
    Quote from the frontpiece "The extraordinary story of 'Joe' Carstairs, the fastest woman on water". Having read this enjoyable book, I have to say extraordinary is an understatement.
  • Kath
    Super characterisation. You just want to dive in and live these lives.
  • Travis Wagner
    For a queer analysis one cannot help but find Summerscale's delivery and frame of reference anything but problematic.
  • Mary
    Fantastic!What an amazing retelling of an amazing life! I agree with Joe- her life SHOULD be turned into a movie!
  • Maryann MJS1228
    The English excel at the nurturing and cultivation of eccentrics. From ferret legging to innkeepers who charge extra to those "whose faces he didn't care for" there's an eccentric for every taste from the land of Shakespeare. I think Will S. would have enjoyed the subject of Kate Summerscale's ode to eccentricity - Marion Barbara "Joe" Carstairs - what with the tropical islands, cross-dressing, vague paternity and feats of derring-do, how could h...
  • Phil
    I'd been thinking of re-reading this book for a while, because the story had stayed in my mind for so long after my original read through. This slim biography is a testament to the idea that it's not just the lives of "great" people that deserve to be written up. "Joe" Carstairs had an utterly fascinating life: holder of the all-comers water-speed record, heiress, cross-dressing lesbian, "Queen" of a Bahamian island, whose best friend was a 13" h...
  • Rj
    On my nightstand I have just finished reading Kate Summerscale's biography of Joe Carstairs, The Queen of Whale Cay: The Eccentric Story of 'Joe' Carstairs, Fastest Woman on Water (London: Penguin Books, 1999). While not one of the best written biographies, the subject Joe Carstairs more than makes up for the less than stellar writing. Carstairs' story is fascinating as she lived a life that few people could manage in the twentieth-century. Carst...
  • ₵oincidental Ðandy
    I first came across the intriguing story of the eccentric 'Joe' Carstairs & her Steiff-made Lord Tod Wadley - her talismanic doll & miniature alter-ego - years ago in a Vanity Fair article; it made such an impression that it has never escaped me. (It turns out that that very same VF article had been excerpted from Ms. Summerscale's book, "The Queen of Whale Cay".) Now, many years later, having luckily come across a volume of "The Queen of Whale C...
  • Mishehu
    Well written brief bio of a (seemingly) completely insipid person. Carstairs was, in the telling, not a wholly uninteresting subject, just an altogether insubstantial one. I'm not sure more could have been extracted from the surviving record. The author does an admirable job of reconstruction. But while there's much of interest in the broader historical background of the book, and in its gender theoretical aspects, there's little to amuse, entert...
  • Buffy Rochard
    I got this book on clearance because it was a penguin book (and, therefore, would look cute on my shelf) and because of the odd photo on the front. Who knows why I picked it up to read one day, but it was a very interesting account of a decisively odd character. I'd never heard of Joe Carstairs, but I enjoyed the brief romp through her colorful life - especially the accounts of her many interesting friendships with others living on the fringe of ...
  • Ruthiella
    This was a very slim biography of a woman doomed to obscurity. At best, Joe Carstairs could be described as an eccentric. Sparked by an obituary, Summerscale attempts to tease out the life story of a woman who was briefly hailed in the early part of the 20th century as “The fastest woman on water”. Parts of the book are best taken with a whole shaker of salt since Carstairs by the author’s and her own admission embellished, misremembered an...