In this accomplished and deftly plotted debut novel, Steavenson makes clear that her training in journalism has served, too, as an apprenticeship in fiction and its embellishments. Here, clinging to facts that are arresting enough in themselves, she distills the all-too-real convulsions of politicized religion that have brought terror to Paris and elsewhere. Yet to get at more lasting truths, she gives herself license to lie, to admit subjectivity, and the consequent freedoms of fiction seem as revelatory to Steavenson as they will to her readers.
Steavenson thoughtfully portrays Kit's growing distress over the threat of terrorism, exacerbated by the fear that both her ex-husband and son may be more involved in perpetrating similar crimes than she is willing to admit ... By the time the novel reaches its climax, events have moved Kit closer to a more sophisticated understanding of the dangers in an early-21st-century world, but Steavenson never suggests there will be any easy solutions to these conflicts. Fans of work by Graham Greene or John le Carré will find much to admire in the engrossing Paris Metro.
She has material at her fingertips that many novelists can only dream about. This is both the great strength and the undoing of her fascinating and flawed new book, a work of fiction that lurches from excellent set pieces to frustrating passages of exposition and yet always has something interesting to say ... She is excellent on a war reporter’s difficulty with confronting her own vulnerability, her loss of perspective ... The political mysteries in Steavenson’s novel could be gripping, but the form-versus-content battle rages throughout ... In these middle sections, the stop-start nature of the narrative becomes particularly frustrating. Steavenson has such an abundance of material that it’s never clear what story she’s telling ... ultimately rewarding, even if the overall impression is one of a talented writer still transitioning from one métier to another.
Steavenson is at her best when she lets her characters go after one another like they do in a Beirut bar after worldwide protests over a Mohammed cartoon turned violent. Kit sits with a group of men, and their conversation slides from issue to issue ... In many ways, Paris Metro is a catalog of the ways the continuing War on Terror affects the lives of those close to it. It gives more space to characters from the affected countries than most books, though even more would have served the book better. Steveanson’s firsthand knowledge of what it was like to cover these subjects gives Paris Metro necessary authority, and in the novel it is wielded well.
With unflinching realism and complicated, captivating characters, Steavenson tackles the turbulent realities of the war against terror by diving deeply into the history and motivations of the people waging their own personal battles in search of the truth.
Kit’s turbulent relationship with her son, 'two mongrel outcasts brought together by fate,' is one of the finest things in this very fine novel. Deeply informed by the author’s experiences as a journalist but triumphantly transmuted into intelligent and heartfelt fiction.
Steavenson, the author of several books of international reporting (The Weight of a Mustard Seed, etc.), skillfully writes about the history and politics of global conflicts; the novel’s first half, which could almost read like a fictionalized journalistic memoir, is balanced by its far more emotional second half. The false dichotomy of an 'us vs. them' divide, the lingering prejudices of a protagonist who once thought herself above such things, the knowledge that solutions are rarely, if ever, tidy—all are wrestled with throughout a novel that powerfully merges the personal and the political.