Paradise City, which opens with a quote from the Guns and Roses song praising the virtues of a place full of possibilities, is a compassionate but upbeat look at four interlocking lives in contemporary London. Though it opens with a grim encounter between a wealthy businessman and a hotel maid, the novel is both thoughtful and witty, unafraid of tackling big subjects (sexual assault, political asylum) but also finding joy in the smallest of human connections.
The story alternates between four perspectives, the aforementioned self-made millionaire Sir Howard Pink and Ugandan political refugee Beatrice Kizza, who is supporting herself as a chambermaid. When Pink assaults Kizza in his hotel room, it sets off a chain of events that not only proves life changing for both of them but also draws in Esme Reade, a young and aspiring journalist desperate to get an interview with Pink. On the outskirts of the city, Carol Hetherington, a quiet widow, uncovers something in her neighbor’s garden while house-sitting that also has unexpected consequences for Pink.
Each character is well crafted and the book is filled with the kind of precise detail that makes the story come alive. Reade is the most engaging, perhaps because she shares the author’s occupation (author Elizabeth Day is an award-winning journalist who has worked for several major British newspapers). Paradise City is most persuasive in its depiction of newspaper politics, especially the jealousies and camaraderie of the newsroom; when Esme describes how it feels when an interview starts to go her way, there is an vibrancy there rooted in personal experience. Day’s work as a journalist also informs the novel’s brisk pace and its grabbed-from-the-headlines plot points.
London is the novel’s silent fifth character, a city that here welcomes those who come to change their life for the better or simply seek new fortunes. Though Paradise City resolves a little too tidily, it is an intelligent, well-written novel of depth and heart.