Monday, 11 July 2016

“The Undertaker” & “The Last Hurrah” by Carmel McMurdo Audsley

Carmel McMurdo Audsley
Carmel McMurdo Audsley is an Australian author who lives in Brisbane. She worked as a Journalist and Editor. She wrote thousands of news stories and feature articles. Now she spends her time researching and writing her novels. She is not only a Journalist and Editor, but also she holds a Bachelor's degree majoring in Literature and Philosophy. 

A few years ago she published a trilogy of novels which is set in Scotland. The books are based on the true history of her own family and they are entitled: Ours, Yours and Mines (2012), Far Across The Sea (2013) and Faeries, Farms and Folk (2013). In Faeries, Farms and Folk she brings to life the stories of people living in the 1600s and 1700s in farming communities in lowland Scotland. In Ours, Yours and Mines she follows the family and their transition to coal miners living in the miners' rows of Ayrshire in Scotland in the mid-1800s and early 1900s. The final instalment in the trilogy, Far Across The Sea, follows the main character as he sets out after the second world war to find a new life in Australia. All three novels have received good reviews on the Internet. 

Carmel and her husband Iain both had Scottish fathers, share a mutual love of Scotland and have walked in the footsteps of their ancestors to get a feel for how life must have been for them. Recently Carmel McMurdo Audsley has written and published two more novels.

The Undertaker

The novel was published in 2015. The Undertaker is set in Edinburgh (Scotland) in 1858. The main character is Kate Grainger who is a young, ambitious and very intelligent woman. She works as a female gravedigger. This specific work helps her to solve some mysteries associated with dead people. So, in 1858 Kate Grainger, who is twenty-three years old and lives in Edinburgh, inherits her father's undertaking business, where she has helped him until the day of his death. You must know that life for an ambitious and intelligent woman in Edinburgh in Scotland in 1858 could be frustrating. According to the common belief the only job, which every woman should do, was to be exemplary wives and mothers. However, Kate wants something more. She wants to become a doctor, but unfortunately women are not allowed to study at the prestigious Edinburgh School of Medicine – although one young woman was able to do it in 1809. Then that brave woman disgusted herself as a man in order that she could study to become a doctor.

Published by CreateSpace Independent
Publishing Platform
United States (2015)
Kate, however, has a close male friend called James, who is a doctor. He is smitten with her and wants to marry her, but she has made it clear that she has no such intentions. She spends a lot of time with him looking through his medical books to learn all that she can. She has drive and ambition – and a special gift. Kate can communicate with people who have passed over. She had, what her father thought, an imaginary friend when she was a child. Kate also has a visit from a little girl from her childhood. The child is a spirit of the little girl who died in the Great Fire of Edinburgh in 1824. 

When Kate discovers that her first client at Grainger Undertakers has been murdered, she sets out on a journey that takes her deep into Edinburgh’s underground and into the spirit world to catch a serial killer. Her quest takes her to London and Dundee and into the underground vaults of Edinburgh with its brothels and opium dens and she follows the trail of a serial killer. Will she find a killer? Maybe she will also become his another victim? Will Kate be able to stop the murderer before he kills his next victim?

The Undertaker is the novel about not only an original character, but also a very interesting idea of the story. Kate Grainger is the character that you can really like. In addition – as a woman – she follows an incredibly unusual profession. The author presents her as a very strong young woman who does not want to marry in order to have financial support and be safety. She is not also afraid of risking her neck to find the truth. There are not too many imitable role models around her. We must remember that almost none of young women living in the mid-nineteen century had female people to follow them. However, Kate is determined in her action. On the pages of this novel you can witness some really beautiful scenes. An example of this fact is the meeting a small dog which became famous in Edinburgh for sitting by the grave of his dead owner for fourteen years. Because of Kate’s extraordinary gift, she is able to see the spirit of this man who now is walking down the street.

This is a photo of Kate Grainger as she is about to enter The Vaults which
were underground chambers.

The plot of the novel is not just about a female gravedigger, who can communicate with dead people, what could be far depressing for a reader. This is primarily a moving story about death which should be treated with great respect. In addition, the idea associated with creating the character that is able to communicate with dead people, is commendable. Moreover, this story can help to find the answers to three fundamental questions which are usually posed during the discussion about crime fiction: Who did it?, Why did he do it? and How did he do it?

As we know historical fiction is a genre of literature that has many enthusiasts among readers. Every author who creates historical fiction must do research work very reliable so that both the reality and the characters come to life in the reader’s imagination in a really powerful way. Many people say that it is possible only by using “Voice” which the author can hear in her/his head to communicate with her/his characters. Carmel McMurdo Audsley uses her “Voice” so skillfully that we can actually hear how the individual characters speak to us. This is the kind of going back in time, so that we are able to meet the social realities of nineteenth-century Scotland and get to know the mentally of people living then. In addition, the historical background is so authentic that we can accurately hear even a Scottish accent and see the place where the story is set. The plot of the novel is also connected to some extent with the occult, but in spite of that the author does not go into this problem too much detail. So, the story of Kate Grainger is designed primarily for readers who like historical fiction, but do not avoid the story in which there is no lack of mystery, suspense and situations that may be true in the spiritual world. It all makes the story incredibly addictive from the first page.  

The Last Hurrah

The novel was published in 2016 and it is associated with an extremely serious and controversial problem of death on your own terms. This time this is not historical fiction, but a contemporary novel of manners. A severe fatal disease, that affects ourselves or people who are our close relatives, is never easy to be accepted by us. Although you try to believe and hope that everything will be fine, in your head there is a thought which tells you that this time the doctors will be helpless, your body will just give up and soon you will have to say goodbye to your loved ones who spent with you many years of their lives. So, when Bob and Anna McAllister are both diagnosed with terminal illnesses within weeks of each other, they try to reach out to their adult children but everyone is too busy to hear the devastating news.

Published by Theatricks Publishing
Australia (2016) 
Bob, who now is 78, moved from Glasgow to Brisbane in 1960 and worked as an accountant.  He met Brisbane born and bred Anna, a school teacher, a few years later they married and raised three children. They had been retired for eighteen years and enjoyed being together and taking cruises. 

In 2016, after a year in remission from breast cancer, Anna, who is 75, discovers that her cancer has returned and has spread to other parts of her body. She must decide whether to endure more gruelling bouts of surgery and therapy or enjoy the short time she has left to live. In a sad twist of fate, Bob suffers another major heart attack and his congestive heart failure has progressed to a stage where he also has only a short time to live. Rather than spend their remaining days in care, they decide to take one last cruise to the South Pacific – have one last hurrah – and not return from their holiday.

The story is a work of fiction but covers a topical subject – the right to die on your own terms. The storyline in no way reflects the author’s views and she does not have a barrow to push. She is simple the teller of a story that may make you think about your life and the people in it. It is a sad love story, about two elderly people who are devoted to each other, and the disconnect to notice they are needed.

The Last Hurrah is primarily a very moving story about the elderly people who has just realised that their time has come and they must prepare for the way forward into the unknown world. The last cruise on the Pacific is a kind of their farewell to the living world. They do not also want to burden their family with their own problems. It seems that the only solution can be death which is getting closer. The novel is a very well-written story that compels readers to stop and reflect on their own lives and their behaviour associated with their family’s members. So, we can ask ourselves if now the young people are not too busy to notice that an elderly parent really needs their support. Besides, for readers who have ever participated in taking a cruise to the South Pacific, the book can also become a kind of their cruise memory, because it contains a lot of very interesting descriptions of the places that they could see during the cruise. In this novel Bob and Anna can see them. For someone else these descriptions can also be an encouragement to take a cruise to the South Pacific.

As you can read above both Carmel McMurdo Audsley’s books relate to death – although each of them does it in a completely different way. Dying is a common denominator here, and only a reader is able to discover the real message hidden between the lines. Apart from that both books teach us how to respect death.

If you want to read an interview with Carmel McMurdo Audsley, please click here
If you want to read this review in Polish, please click here

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