Book Review: Paradise City – Elizabeth Day


Paradise City - Elizabeth Day

About The Book

An audacious, compassionate state-of-the-nation novel about four strangers whose lives collide with far-reaching consequences.

Beatrice Kizza, a woman in flight from a homeland that condemned her for daring to love, flees to London. There, she shields her sorrow from the indifference of her adopted city, and navigates a night-time world of shift-work and bedsits.

Howard Pink is a self-made millionaire who has risen from Petticoat Lane to the mansions of Kensington on a tide of determination and bluster. Yet self-doubt still snaps at his heels and his life is shadowed by the terrible loss that has shaken him to his foundations.

Carol Hetherington, recently widowed, is living the quiet life in Wandsworth with her cat and The Jeremy Kyle Show for company. As she tries to come to terms with the absence her husband has left on the other side of the bed, she frets over her daughter’s prospects and wonders if she’ll ever be happy again.

Esme Reade is a young journalist learning to muck-rake and doorstep in pursuit of the elusive scoop, even as she longs to find some greater meaning and leave her imprint on the world.

Four strangers, each inhabitants of the same city, where the gulf between those who have too much and those who will never have enough is impossibly vast. But when the glass that separates Howard’s and Beatrice’s worlds is shattered by an inexcusable act, they discover that the capital has connected them in ways they could never have imagined.

My Review

I read The Party by Elizabeth Day earlier this year and fell head over heels in love with it, Richard and Judy later announced it as one of their Book Club picks and I have to admit that I was pretty smug at being ahead of the curve. After reading The Party I bought all of Elizabeth Day’s books and they’ve been burning a hole in my Kindle ever since. Well, never fear because I have finally devoured one, and much like The Party, Paradise City grabbed me and didn’t let go.

It is different to The Party in many ways (don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a review comparing the two books, it is not an A Level essay) but one thing remains the same, Paradise City is a brilliant character led novel with beautiful and emotive writing. Told from four different viewpoints, Sir Howard Pink, Beatrice Kizza, Carol Hetherington and Esme Reade, these four people live in London and are seemingly unconnected but events contrive to bring them together. Paradise City is an exploration of life and the impact that we have upon another and how we form connections. These people aren’t brought together in a Sliding Doors way or a series of ridiculous and convoluted coincidences that cause them to cross paths, it is through good, old-fashioned storytelling.

The book opens with Sir Howard Pink visiting a hotel in London. He stays there regularly to spend some time alone with his thoughts about his daughter, Ada who walked out of her halls of residence aged 19 and hasn’t been seen since. He is a kind of Alan Sugar/Phillip Green type, a self-made millionaire who is wildly successful, has a driver, a large house and incredible wealth at his fingertips. He isn’t particulary happy though and is on his second marriage to a woman who loves his money more than she does him. He does something pretty terrible, but despite this, I really liked him which isthe talent of Elizabeth Day. Howard Pink is everything I hate in a person, but she has created a real  human being who leapt from the pages and I was fully on his side within a few chapters.

In fact, all four of the main characters became like friends to me. Esme the young journalist who secures a lunch with Sir Howard, Carol who has been recently widowed and misses her husband desperately and Beatrice, a refugee who is struggling to make ends meet (tomato ketchup on toast and chicken nuggets is the mainstay of her diet) are all real, living people. I especially liked Esme’s chapters which are set in a busy newspaper office. Elizabeth Day is an ex-journalist and there is therefore a certain authenticity to these sections – the power play, the atmosphere in the room when a story breaks and the dark, sad side to writing for a newspaper in the UK. It is great stuff and I was fully immersed in each of their stories.

I need to talk about the writing though and how glorious it is. Elizabeth Day’s characterisation is brilliant, from the descriptions of Beatrice who is “sitting there, like a small, unimportant shadow of somebody who used to be” and how when she first arrived in the UK she was “a mere outline of herself, as though all of the scribbled colour of her had been rubbed out” to the observations of modern life and how “real experience has been trumped by fabricated identity”. There is a depth to the prose which makes it both moving and engaging.

Paradise City, is a blistering take on modern Britain. – The obscene wealth of Sir Howard contrasts with the poverty of Beatrice and all four characters are hiding a part of themselves away showing a different face to society. I loved the contrasts, the sadness and the powerful imagery that was conjured up and there are some lovely moments, almost asides, where a small jigsaw puzzle piece slips into place. I found it an emotional and powerful read and I keep wondering how Sir Howard, Beatrice, Esme and Carol are getting on which is always the mark of a good novel in my book.

If you’d like to read Paradise City you can buy it here. Elizabeth Day also has a brilliant Podcast called How To Fail with Elizabeth Day which examines how failure leads to great success – it is brilliant, I highly recommend it.





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