Saturday 01 August 1998
In a serendipitous moment, the author encountered her subject while working on obits at the Telegraph. Marion Barbara Carstairs, who died aged 93 in December 1993, was a transvestite lesbian who preferred to be known as Joe. One of her first affairs was with Dolly Wilde, Oscar's niece. Using her vast wealth to purchase a Caribbean island which she ran as an autocracy, Joe cradled a succession of stunning beauties in her brawny arms. She bought a yacht with Marlene Dietrich, who was shocked by her tattoos. Joe lied and stole (nickname "Klep"), but was generous to ex-lovers. Packed with oddities, this book is a delicious entertainment.
I Saw You First by Cindy Blake (Simon & Schuster, pounds 9.99)
You need a good ear to make transatlantic satire work, but Cindy Blake (author of Foreign Correspondents and Second Wives) knows her Essex girls from her New York JAPs. In London to make a TV "infomercial", bestselling relationship guru Lisa Thomas and her Gap-T-shirted husband are introduced to a set of snobbish Brits, including actor Toby Goodyear, and marketing man Declan Lewis. But when the chips are down (and everyone's in bed with each other's wives), no prizes for guessing who gets the last dorito.
The Bourbons of Naples by Harold Acton (Prion, pounds 15)
A 700-page historical blockbuster devoted to the quirky dynasty which ruled Naples for 150 years. Acton spices his epic with much enjoyable detail, such as the dangling hooks which the first ruler, Prince Charles, used to whip off the wigs of visiting courtiers (the British consul was a frequent victim), or Lady Hamilton's much-rehearsed welcome of victorious Nelson: "Considerably plumper than when Nelson last met her, she must have incurred the risk of knocking over the one-armed hero, who was short and spare." The author also delights in damning a mercenary ancestor: "The Queen now spoke of Acton as the most evil and ungrateful of men."
Joyce and Ginny, the Letters of Joyce Grenfell and Virginia Graham edited by Janie Hampton (Sceptre, pounds 8.99)
Comic actress Joyce Grenfell and journalist Ginny Graham first met in 1917 at the age of seven. Both natural wits and, later, committed Christian Scientists, these irrepressibly jolly girls wrote to each other daily for nearly 50 years. As close as sisters ("your letter has filled me with glows and heart-thumps"), their Barbara Pymish correspondence details everything from the state of their respective hair- dos and marriages to the pleasures of a good "cuppa" - though their fastidious editor has banished all references to their "bowels and menstrual cycles".
A Genius in the Family by Hilary du Pre and Piers du Pre (Vintage, pounds 7.99)
It is not the retailing of Jacqueline du Pre's imperfections, her rocky marriage or devastating decline which makes this sibling account so unsatisfactory. Though page after page is occupied by the gratingly smug natter of the du Pre household, we are given next to no insight into Jacqueline's genius ("She believed she had a God-given gift...") and musical accomplishments. Astonishingly, her brother is under the impression that his experience of landing an aircraft is equally interesting: "I could almost hear the Radio Three announcer saying, `That was Piers du Pre performing the maestro finale of the Boeing 707 concerto in Hong Kong.'" Ghastly stuff.
City of Dreadful Night by Judith Walkowitz (Virago, pounds 12.99)
Despite the teasing sub-title ("Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late- Victorian London"), this is a feminist exploration of the contemporary impact of the Ripper murders and other gruesome scandals. But Walkowitz's insights are blurred by academic incomprehensibility ("Henry James retreated from a totalising vision into constrained introspection, without invoking psychic splitting") and her evidence is occasionally distinctly shaky. Supporting her contention that the Ripper affair "stimulated male fantasies of vulnerability", she adduces the fearful recollections of someone who was three-and-a-half years old at the time.
A potent mix of sandwiches and off-duty Marines at Elvira's cafe from Happy Days (Gollancz, pounds 9.99) by Beryl Cook. Cook began her artistic life by accident, when she picked up her small son's paintbrush to show him how to fill in the gap between blue sky and green grass
Life & Style blogs
Holocaust Memorial Day: 70 years since Auschwitz liberation, these are the stories of survivors
Double chins could be 'cured' without surgery or dieting using new injection
Snapchat got rid of the Best Friends feature and 'stalkers' are upset
Hershey's angers US chocolate purists by forcing company to stop importing 'yummy' Cadbury bars
Food secrets: the good, the bad...and the faeces
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures
- 1 The BBC has just done more to eradicate ‘terrorism’ than all our wars since 9/11
- 2 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 3 Mystery man who gave mum heart-warming note on train 'wanted to put a smile on her face'
- 4 Michelle Obama highlights harsh restrictions faced by Saudi women after meeting King Salman without wearing a headscarf
- 5 Grumpy Roald Dahl letter warning student to 'eschew beastly adjectives' rediscovered after 35 years
Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...
£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...
£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...
£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...