Monday, 18 May 2009

Worth the wait

Ten years ago I was knocked sideways by Kate Summerscale's extraordinary book The Queen of Whale Cay.

It's the biography of Marion 'Joe' Carstairs (born 1900), champion speedboat racer and spirited 'ruler' of a group of islands in the West Indies. Jo's boundless self-confidence was underpinned by an equally unlimited private income (Standard Oil).

Central to the story is Carstairs' wildly peculiar 'relationship' with an inanimate object - her beloved doll/mascot/alter ego 'Lord Todd Wadley' (on her shoulder above) - creepy at first glance, poignant as the story unfolds.

Intriguing, funny and deliciously outré, the book is a page-turning proof text for 'truth being infinitely stranger than fiction' .

Not surprisingly, Summerscale has taken her time finding another subject for her pen. I'm pleased to report that, ten years on, she has delivered a humdinger.

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher is a factual account of the shocking event that took place at Road Hill House, Trowbridge, in the summer of 1860: the murder of a child.

But this is much more than a whodunnit.

Through the prism of a family trauma, Summerscale manages to show us a vivid image of a whole turbulent society, where the seemingly powerful bonds of class and family are, in reality, deeply vulnerable.


Barrie said...

Thanks for this hot tip and for introducing me to the Queen of Whale Cay, was it really ten years ago!

Mr Gnome said...

Published 1998! And did you check the reference in the early pages to a Mrs Harrison-Hall?