Walking the Lights, by Deborah Andrews, takes the reader through a year in the life of recently graduated drama student Maddie McGuire. When the book opens Maddie is living in a squalid house share with her boyfriend, Mike. They exist on state benefits and short term loans, prioritising both legal and illegal drugs over food. They watch as others from their college course find work, unable to fathom how they will manage to make happen the big break they dream of.
Maddie harbours a deep resentment over her upbringing. She has vague, happy memories of her father who left the family home when she was young. She now wonders why he did not keep in touch, believing he cannot have cared. Her mother remarried and Maddie has always disliked her volatile stepfather. The feeling appears to be mutual.
Although now choosing to distance herself from her family, Maddie has a close circle of friends from her drama course who she can rely on. Amongst them is Jo. This young woman, unlike Maddie, is able and willing to seek out opportunities for work. She puts Maddie in touch with some of her contacts that her friend may find at least some casual employment from time to time. Maddie and Jo talk of putting on their own production, an adaptation of ‘The Tempest’, and Jo sets out to make it happen.
The story charts the progression of Maddie’s relationships with partners, family and friends. As each of the characters is developed the reader is offered scope to empathise, despite their flaws. I could not warm to Maddie though. Throughout the narrative she remained self centred and dependent. I wondered at her friends’ loyalty.
Maddie does not appear able to contemplate moving away from her home town of Glasgow. As an aspiring actress this struck me as odd. When she gets together with Alex and he ponders pursuing further education elsewhere she does not consider going with him. I wondered what tied her so tightly to a place which is presented as damp and drab, where the family she resents can demand attention and her career is in stasis. It is as if she is unwilling to grasp the life she claims to desire, waiting for others to provide.
The writing is abrupt in places, although the reader is offered vivid descriptions of the effects psychotic drugs have on the mind. Alex’s role is centralised and then sidelined. I was unclear as to why Maddie needed a friend to suggest she try to contact her father, why she did not think of this herself. I enjoyed the descriptive sections, it was the neediness and inertia Maddie portrayed that seemed at odds with her apparent talent and desire for more. Despite my reservations I was moved by the denouement.
This is an enjoyable enough read but lacked coherency and depth. The perspective offered on young actors lives is interesting, but ultimately the whole left be unsatisfied.