Our perception of fame in today’s world is that it is achievable by anyone. Whether through TV shows such as Big Brother or X Factor, a You Tube sensation, or by simply marrying a footballer, fame is something that can happen to anyone almost overnight. One could argue that the internet and reality TV have, therefore, levelled the playing field resulting in a more democratic public sphere – fame is no longer for the privileged and super-talented, but for everyone. Our thirst for celebrity and fame has also been the subject of ridicule, however, such as in Charlie Brooker’s 2011 TV series Black Mirror. In one episode, we are offered a vision of the future where we spend our days on exercise bikes, earning ‘points’, distracted into submission by TV and light entertainment; the only glimpse of escape from this daily drudgery is to enter the Hot Shot talent show.
In Andrew Crofts’ novel, our protagonist, Maggie de Beer, is completely consumed by the idea of success and fame. Beginning in the early 70s, Maggie’s story is an almost nostalgic portrayal of celebrity. Hers is a world before ‘Heat Magazine and the bloody internet’, when glamour, sophistication and mystery were still valued. She idolises Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn, plastering her bedroom with their posters, whilst dreaming that she will one day ‘walk amongst them’.
True to most adolescents’ experience, she feels her parents do not understand her and she is sickened by their lack of sympathy for her ambition. They are presented as up-tight and old fashioned and she begins to feel a prisoner in ‘their gloomy, claustrophobic little home’. Her father just wants her to do her homework and tells her she will ‘end up in the gutter’ if she holds on to her childish fantasies. As dreary as he sounds, the reader can’t help but share in her father’s pessimism – to become as famous as Monroe or Hepburn seems a tall order for a girl from Haywards Heath with no discernable talent. If nothing else, however, Maggie has courage and conviction, and by the close of the first chapter she is on the train to London to find fame and fortune.
The novel then rattles along at a fair old pace, covering a good forty-year period from beginning to end. In this time Maggie tries and fails at almost everything she does – model, actor, singer. She manages to make some money as a glamour model and as an escort, and although this is surely not what she envisaged doing, she does enjoy the attention. Despite these constant set backs, however, Maggie refuses to give up, and whilst there is something to admire in her determination, she comes across as increasingly delusional. Her big-break is always just around the corner, but she always manages to fall just short.
In one excruciating episode, she is reunited with her fifteen year old daughter, who she was estranged from at birth. Her daughter is already a successful actor, but Maggie still believes she can give her daughter some helpful advice, the benefits of her experience. It is quite clear that her daughter is doing just fine without her, especially as Maggie’s next move is to sell the story of how she gave her daughter up to the News of the World. In her twisted, delusional mind, Maggie thinks that this is somehow going to be the crowning moment of her chequered career.
Maggie, like most of us, craves love and attention, but is continually looking for it in the wrong places, whether it’s from unsuitable men or a largely unreceptive public. She rejected her parents love long ago but they still occupy her thoughts – she constantly wonders if they are taking notice of her success or if they will come and find her and apologise to her for getting it all wrong. Her childlike longing for her parents approval, fixes her as a tragic lost child in the readers mind, ensuring we remain sympathetic to her plight.
Maggie closes her story by declaring that she had ‘finally made it’. Although she has found some success, it is tainted by tragedy, guilt and regret. She has sacrificed everything in pursuit of stardom and is certainly no happier when it arrives. Maggie’s story is a fable for our times and reminds us all to be careful for what you wish for.
Available in Kindle format
Find out more about Andrew Crofts