Emmy’s older sister Beth dies by suicide and the situation is exacerbated by the fact that she is a member of an internationally famous band, The Jinks, under the pseudonym Lizzie Beck. This double identity brings with it an uneasy merger of the many trappings of fame-welcome or not-and the complexities of family dynamics, where she was both daughter and sister. Add to the mix the habitual support systems of drugs and alcohol and the whole begins to resemble Snakes and Ladders, with Beth the loser of the game.
Barnard explores with confidence the impact of grief, of fame and of love, in all their myriad forms and strips them bare. Emmy rails against the hypocrisy of those who post on the internet, claiming to love her sister and to mourn her loss, yet they knew only the manufactured alter-ego, not the real person. All too often every unsavoury aspect of her sister’s life was vividly chronicled and eagerly read, yet after her death the empty ritual of fan-mourning began, complete with time-honoured empty platitudes.
Emmy is inconsolable, unable to speak to her parents, to accept the compassion and concern of her friends or to respond to the love of her boyfriend Scottie. She is caught in the chains of anger and despair and can’t comprehend the world she finds herself in. The only consolation she finds is in the meaningless: sexual encounters with a member of her theatrical school who uses her to make money by reporting their conversations to the national press. Barnard portrays this compellingly, walking the fine line between anguish and rage with aplomb, making real Emmy’s counter-intuitive choices.
The breaking point comes when she verbally attacks online the behaviour of The Jinks’ remaining members as they announce on TV that they intend to continue the band without Beth, seeing nothing but exploitation of her sister’s untimely death. When Jodie, the leading band member and a former close friend of long-standing makes the courageous move of coming to explain the situation to Emmy she discovers that her father, the band’s manager, put aside Beth’s markedly deteriorating mental health, insisting that she should carry on, despite the other band members’ protestations. Those who we rely on to protect are all too ready to exploit and when her father offers Emmy her late sister’s place in the band she declines.
Barnard writes with great sensitivity and insight and the reunion between Emmy and her three closest friends is handled beautifully, with character interactions full of veracity and nuance. Where The Light Goes is an accomplished and wide-ranging exploration of extremely difficult subjects – and it never falters.