Paradise City – Elizabeth Day

It was my birthday recently, and my lovely friend gave me this book; thank you!!

I’ve sat down to write this post with a dreamy fug still about my head, like I haven’t quite touched back to Earth yet. This, by the way, is the absolute best way to finish a book – with a long exhale as though you’re only now realising that you were holding your breath, and jet-lag which makes you slow and dippy because you’ve just dropped back at lightspeed from another universe.

Brilliant writing!

Paradise City is a beautifully drawn slice of London life. I love London – real London, with all her flaws and faults – and so, it would seem, does Day. By following four disparate characters, she has created something truly beautiful; starkly, upsettingly beautiful; like Tracy Emin’s bed or Lily Allen’s Smile, and I can’t think of a better tribute to the city I call home. It’s as if someone has painted a life portrait of someone you love very much – there they are, in paint, naked and with every blemish and wrinkle captured for eternity – and it is stunning, both because of the skill of the artist, and because of your love for the subject.

Credit: Photograph: Greg Fonne/Getty Images. Found on the Guardian website.

I’m slowly coming back to reality as I write this! Paradise City is definitely a character-driven, rather than a plot-driven novel. The blurb tantalisingly describes an ‘inexcusable act [which] shatters the boundaries between their worlds’, and while this is accurate, the book is not the whodunnit/disaster novel that one might expect from this description. I think I was expecting a fiction about terrorism – perhaps there would be an attack in Chapter 1, and we would follow the four through the aftermath – but the book is not that. Instead, I found a beautifully interwoven character study which kept me so engrossed in the salon that I don’t think I would have noticed if the hairdresser had shaved my head! (As you can see from the selfie, she didn’t. Phew.)

I think it’s because the incident to which the blurb refers is discovered during the narrative – not dropped into Chapter 1 – that it doesn’t have the immediacy to make the story all about it. The incident is secondary to the people connected to it, in my opinion; as a reader, I do care about what has happened, but I care more about how it has affected the characters.  Touching on divorce, refugee status, sexuality, bereavement, wealth, poverty, publicity and politics, this is no light read – but having said that, I didn’t find it completely harrowing either – possibly because of this focus on the characters rather than the drama.

London has my heart, and it was touched by this book! (Definitely a successful birthday gift.)

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