Maddie is a young woman trying to find her way in the world as she navigates nineties Glasgow. Recently graduated, sheâ€™s a jobbing actor still living a student life, alongside her boyfriend, Mike. They get by on next to nothing, and what they do have tends to go on drugs or alcohol. Maddieâ€™s family life is not all it could be â€“ and the story of that unfolds later on in the novel â€“ but she has great friends, and she has big dreams.
Whilst not specially a â€˜coming of ageâ€™ novel, Maddie develops significantly throughout the story and by the end, sheâ€™s a much stronger, much more focused person with a lot to look forward to. I was quite ambivalent about Maddie to begin with. Sheâ€™s not an easy character to get to know because she is distant and uncertain. These are traits that Deborah Andrews describes very well â€“ but the downside is that however good the writing itâ€™s still not easy to engage with a remote character. Equally, the pace is quite slow early on and I kept feeling as if I was waiting for something more to happen, for the story to take off.
All of that said, Andrewsâ€™ writing â€“ this is her debut novel â€“ is excellent throughout. And, as more of the â€˜plotâ€™ came through, together with drips of information about Maddieâ€™s home life, in particular her relationship with her dad, the pace picked up and I found myself warming far more to Maddie and becoming very curious about her story. Two-third of the way through, I was willing her to find a happy ending â€“ so I suppose you could say that as Maddie thaws and finds her way, so did this reader.
Andrewsâ€™ depiction of the fringes of Glasgow in the 1990â€™s struck me as spot on. I wasnâ€™t there then, but I have been more recently and I did spend the early nineties in Bradford, and on both counts the descriptions, the atmosphere and the social issues resonated. I felt I was there â€“ and it felt quite bleak (in retrospect, I should have been more sympathetic to Maddie earlier!) although I should stipulate there are moments that are very funny.
Walking The Lights has been shortlisted for Not The Booker Prize 2016 and this is very well-deserved. All in all, a very thoughtful novel that will quietly but effectively get under your skin.
Published by Freight BooksÂ and available in paper copy and eBook format.