I'm not sure when I first read a recommendation for Liz Berry's books. I think it may have been maybe 5 years ago. The only book I could find in the US was The China Garden – which was this young adult romance/mystery with paranormal aspects combined with a very British voice. I was very struck by it. The author was really good at creating an emotional atmosphere and a tone of inevitability. I'm partial to books set in England because growing up in a British colony, many kids books I read were set there. I also found Mel, and liked that too – that one had a girl renovating a house all by herself, and I had just moved into the first place I ever *owned* so I was interested in that home-beautifying process. Liz Berry worked in the arts and with high school students, and her characters are on this cusp of adulthood, dealing with serious issues (pregnancy, homelessness, physical attraction, love and sex) and they are often artists (painters, designers, musicians). The person she most reminds me of is Ai Yazawa of Nana and Paradise Kiss fame, except Yazawa uses the slightly different medium of manga).
Anyway, I did some rooting around on the internet and discovered that a lot of Liz Berry books are out of print and hard to find (of course!) – including this duology Easy Connections (book 1) and Easy Freedom which are probably the books shes most well known for. I couldn't find it for under $40. For the longest time I would periodically check to see if there were any cheaper copies but was always out of luck. Finally about a month ago – someone put Easy Connections up for sale on half.com for only $10, so I snapped it up. As soon as I finished it I had to read Easy Freedom, so I coughed up the $40 to buy it from amazon.uk. The website said "one book left in stock"!
Why the huge demand? Well, I can see a lot of people never forgetting these books after reading them. They are actually a lot darker than I expected them to be, not quite the same as the other Liz Berry novels I've read, and I think this is why they were never published in the States – they deal with rape. I feel like I have to put that out there – I don't think it's a spoiler even though the back copy doesn't really say the word – the two books revolve around what happens after the violent act. And in a very controversial way. This is a squick topic for a lot of people and I find it hard to read about without feeling disturbed. So I was disturbed and uneasy for much of these books.
Cathy Harlowe is a young artist, only 17 and just out of high school, staying with her brother in the country before going into art school. She doesn't realize she is trespassing on the property of Paul Devlin (Dev), from the band Easy Connections. Apparently he's beautiful, like some kind of elven god, and throughout the book he and his bandmate Chris seem to put everyone into a spell with how dangerous and alive they are. Cathy is "attracted and repelled in equal measure". When they meet Dev is high on alcohol and lack of sleep from a tour and eventually forces her to have sex with him. The messed up thing is that he feels like she is his soulmate, is sorry later for what he did, but then he uses all his money and power to make Cathy marry him. She runs away but nothing she does can escape his influence, and even more disturbing, everyone thinks she should marry him too. They either don't believe she was raped because he seems soo in love with her, or they think she should marry him anyway. Her dreams of being a famous painter sort of get swept away in the tidal wave of Dev's fame, money, and power, and the attention of the media. Feminist SF would have a field day.
I spend a lot of the book speechless. Kind of thinking that surely Cathy will get away, people will come to her side but no, it doesn't happen! In book 2 even more occurs when we have the manipulations of Chris, the lead singer of Easy Connections, trying to get Cathy himself. Cathy goes through a lot where she feels like a doll and wants to be "free" (thus the name of the book), but freedom ends up being a complicated thing. She is also eaten up with anger and resentment at what has happened to her because of Dev. She is physically ill and full of terror when he tries to touch her. We also see the reaction of Dev who sees things and Cathy's actions in a very different way. Everything seems like this big complex, crazy mess. It was really addictive to read because I was wondering where the author was going! I'm not sure I could even say what the message from these books are. Maybe it's about how difficult it can be to be a young woman, without any means to support yourself? Or is it about rape and it's consequences? Or fame and power? Or what freedom is? Or forgiveness? Or all of the above and more? I wonder if the author *wanted* the reader to be shocked and frustrated, or angry at the main characters – in her website, she posted reviews of her books which say things like 'Easy Connections shocked and angered me more than anything I've read for a long time.' ILEA English Magazine (l985).
The only thing a bit off about the book was that it did feel slightly dated – I don't know if people would react the same way today as they did then (ug, well not EVERYONE), and the descriptions of the pop rockers seem very much like they belong in the 70s and 80s – skin tight pants, flowing collared shirts, longish hair.. sounds like big hair bands, not quite what's in fashion today.
A very absorbing read, but also a disturbing read. Only read it if the review above intruiged you rather than made you want to run screaming. If you think you may throw these books at the wall – it is quite possible. Yet you may pick it up and still want to see what the eff is going to happen next. I'm definitely going to remember and find myself mulling them over later on. Doesn't really leave you when you finish reading them.