Review: Queen Kat, Carmel and St Jude Get a Life by Maureen McCarthy
|The original cover from 1995.
Even in my early teens, I thought
these models looked too old
for the characters they were meant to
This book is so old and I first read it such a long time ago that I was tempted to file it under 1990s nostalgia, but I decided that would be doing this great novel a diservice. In recent times there has been much discussion about New Adult, a supposedly new genre. Well, folks, I have news for you. Maureen McCarthy was writing "New Adult" in the mid-1990s and doing a bloody fine job of it. Queen Kat, Carmel and St Jude Get a Life was her first novel of this type and was soon followed on by two more novels, Chain of Hearts and When You Wake and Find Me Gone. These novels contained strong, female characters who had very recently reached adulthood and were facing some new and scary challenges. As I said, the novel was released in the mid-1990s and judging by some of the other titles that were released during that era (Livin' Large, for example,) it was obvious that what publishers were looking for was a 1990s version of Puberty Blues. Real life, a representation of what it meant to be growing up in a world that was constantly changing that young readers could relate to. Interesting then that the two classic books of the era would end up being Looking For Alibrandi and Queen Kat, Carmel and St Jude Get a Life. These were realistic novels, but both had more guts and far more rounded situations and strong female characters than what Puberty Blues did, and the long forgotten Livin' Large. (Sidenote: If Livin' Large deserves to be remembered for anything, it's the fact that its three authors were all still in their teens when the book was published.)
Anyway, Queen Kat, Carmel and St Jude Get a Life follows the adventures of three very different young women who move from country Victoria to attend university in Melbourne. This is, obviously, each girls first step into adulthood and a scary new world where life isn't always fair. As the title suggests, Kat is the rich, spoiled girl of the trio, whose adventures show that sometimes being the pretty girl isn't always an advantage--she has plenty of admirers and is eventually exploited for profit by an older man who wants her for modelling work. We also see that she is very lonely for female company and her only real friends would appear to be Carmel and Jude, despite the fact that she often socialises with other "rich kids".
Jude came to Australia from Chile as a refugee when she was very small, aspires to be a doctor and is something of an activist. She sees herself as "St Jude" a saviour for others, but eventually learns that sometimes solutions are not as simple as they appear on the surface.
The third and final member of the trio is a character who often seems to appear in Maureen McCathy's work (albiet with a different name,) the shy and chubby Carmel. Her lesson comes in the form of learning to stand up for herself and, somehow, capturing the attention of an attractive young man who likes her for who she is. I found myself smiling when Carmel stood up to Anton, her boyfriend by breaking his window when she discovered that he was in bed with another woman, but always felt disappointed by how the story resolved. It was more or less explained that Anton and the other woman had a friends-with-benefits style relationship and that Anton felt it was okay to continue bedding a more attractive woman while dating Carmel, because what he and the other woman had was "just sex". In other words, a woman like Carmel would simply have to accept that as she goes through life her partners will probably cheat, because although men like her for her company she's you know, fat and kind of shy so that means that she is undeserving of monogamy. Of course, toward the even of the novel the author notes that Carmel and Anton had a conversation and no one knew what they were talking about, so I hope that Carmel was strong enough to give him a "shape-up or ship-out" message.
In 2000, Queen Kat, Carmel and St Jude Get a Life was made into a four-part television series retitled Queen Kat, Carmel and St Jude and aired on the ABC. (I still remember my dad watching the ad and dismissing it as "feminist bullshit". I wonder if he knew his daughter had read the book four years previously?) The novel has subsequently achieved "modern classic" status and has been republished several times.