During a recent trip to a bookstore, one of those rapidly vanishing retail outlets which sell actual physical books, I picked up a copy of Liz Byrski’s Belly Dancing for Beginners.
I know Liz a little – we work for the same organisation, albeit it in different areas and roles – and I’ve been aware of her fiction for some time, but had never actually read one of her novels. So it was with a mild feeling of guilt that I picked up the book; I really should have checked her work out before this.
Happily, within a couple of pages I was hooked. Her description of the perils of Internet dating was so accurate I laughed out loud: “Sonya suspected that within everyone there burns the flame of hope that somewhere there is a soul mate; someone with whom we will connect so intimately and intensely that we can become our best selves. These days her flame flickered only occasionally, and could usually be subdued by a surf through the depressing line-up of fifty-plus caring gents, all down-to-earth blokes, silver foxes and young-at-heart romantic guys, all with a good sense of humour…”
Her descriptive skills are also evident in Gang of Four, which I read immediately after Belly Dancing; one of her characters tells the married man she’s involved with that she’s been “living on the edge of your life”, a brief and poignant description of the life led by ‘the other woman’.
After Gang of Four I read Trip of a Lifetime and In the Company of Strangers. I’m now engrossed in Bad Behaviour. Liz creates complex, flawed characters I come to care about as they are gradually revealed through the stories.
Most of her characters are in their 40s and older, interesting women and men whose lives do not revolve around finding a happy relationship. Instead they struggle with family problems, career challenges, acts of violence, illness, past traumas, ambitions and major life changes (some chosen, some not). There are few clear villains or heroes and she avoids the easy solution to issues and problems. This is not a world of happy every after but the novels nonetheless have a positive, hopeful sense to them.
If you’ve not read any of Liz Byrski’s novels I strongly recommend you start now. And if you are familiar with them, please share why you’re a fan.