Friday, 5 April 2013

Capital by John Lanchester

Publication date: 3rd January 2013
Published by: Faber & Faber
Literary Fiction

I would describe Capital as a literary version of a photo album of 21st century London living.  I say this because it dips in and out of the lives of the characters, with their stories reading like you’re viewing snapshots.   The characters include a middle-aged banker, his shopahlolic wife, their Hungarian nanny, a Polish builder, an elderly woman who discovers she is terminally ill, a young football player from Senegal who comes to London to play in the premiere league, a Pakistani family who own the local convenience shop, an artist who is famous mostly for his anonymity as well as his outrageous stunts (or art as he calls it) [sound familiar?], the artist’s ‘wannabe’ assistant, and a traffic warden from Zimbabwe.  What all these characters have in common is Pepys Road.

Pepys Road is an ordinary street in South London.  Over the years the value of the houses on the street has increased, most dramatically as a result of the property boom of the late 90s to early 00s. It is common knowledge that they are worth in the region of £1M or more.  The residents receive cards posted through their letter box that state “We want what you have.”  This starts to happen on a regular basis and turns into a campaign of some kind that they find curious at first, and worrying later on, as the campaign becomes more menacing with time, including a website of the same slogan with pictures of the residents’ houses.  The novel becomes a sort of mystery as to who is responsible.

As a native Londoner, I really enjoyed Capital.  The characters are generalised but, rather than stereotyping, John Lanchester presents a perceptive and observational study of multicultural London.  I found it very funny in parts and poignant in others.

It truly is a great read, a definite favourite for me and one I will revisit.

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