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Capital by John Lanchester

Capital (original 2012; edition 2012)

by John Lanchester

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5943316,532 (3.83)61
Authors:John Lanchester
Info:Faber and Faber (2012), Edition: 1st Edition 2nd Printing, Hardcover, 592 pages
Collections:Your library

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Capital by John Lanchester (2012)

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A multi stranded story of the residents of Pepys Rd in SE London. Lanchester does a good job of bringing the strands together & getting under the skin of a number of disparate characters. ( )
  sianpr | Mar 11, 2014 |
Novels should complicate our sometimes-simplistic understanding of people and situations, not pander to them.

There are a lot of stereotypes in this book, but few actual people. The plot is banal, offering little in the way of insight or depth, and the writing reads at times like an A Level creative writing essay.

Tired cliches drift in and out: an investment banker with a money-obsessed wife, a hard-working polish builder who wants a girlfriend, a middle-eastern shop owner arrested for terrorism, an anonymous graffiti artist who sells his work for millions: all lazy reflections of a city and time that John Lanchester has failed to actually grapple with.

The only chapter worth reading is the prologue. You'll learn more about London and late-capitalism from reading a copy of Metro. ( )
  sometimeunderwater | Mar 11, 2014 |
Capital is so titled as it is an exploration of both life in early 21st century London and some of the effects of the financial crisis on the city, as well as the role money plays in the lives of its lengthy cast list.

The novel freewheels chapter by chapter between the residents of several houses on Pepys Road, a street in an unspecified south London suburb, but probably somewhere in the vicinity of Clapham Common. The houses sell for 7 figure sums. Residents include wealthy banker Roger Yount and his recklessly extravagant wife Arabella. Further down the road is elderly widow Petunia Howe, grandmother to Graham aka Smitty a Banksy style anonymous artist. At one end of the street are the Kamals, who run a newsagents. One of the houses is owned by a football club and is occupied by a teenage Senegalese prodigy, Freddy Kano and his father, Patrick. As well as these residents, there is Polish builder Zbigniew and Hungarian nanny Matya, both employed by the street's residents, and Zimbabwean traffic warden Quentina, enforcing its parking restrictions through a shady employer.

Lanchester follows his characters' lives from December 2007 to December 2008.The residents begin to receive anonymous postcards which state "We want what you have", then photographs of their front doors are posted on a blog. From here, the campaign takes a darker turn and the police become involved.

Within this framework, the author employs his cast to show the diversity of London life. It is clear where his sympathies lie: he can barely disguise his contempt for Arabella and her ilk. Roger's career comes to a sticky and sudden halt moments before the banking crisis hits the City. Freddy's stutters. The Kamals are visited by their Pakistani matriarch and come under scrutiny from the police as the "We Want What You Have" campaign develops. Zbigniew and Matya, in London to earn money, find love and develop roots in the city.

However, Capital isn't so simplistic that the poor prosper and the greedy get their comeuppance. The immigration service catch up with Quentina, for example, and Petunia falls seriously ill.

Not all the strands work perfectly, but Lanchester finds the right tone for most of the stories: satirical for the Younts and Smitty, sentimental for Petunia and Matya, comic for Mrs Kamal's visit. If you can imagine White Teeth written by Kate Atkinson you'd be in the right area.

As a resident of the city myself (albeit the north rather than the south) Lanchester captures the chaos of London well; how immigrants keep it functioning and how much time can be spent in transit and searching for a parking space.

Unlike its most obvious recent antecedent, Sebastian Faulks' A Week in December, Capital doesn't get bogged down in explaining the machinations of the City and its institutions; thankfully Lanchester used his research in this area to write a pretty decent history of the financial collapse called Whoops!

Capital is a satisfying, readable novel, and hopefully of as much appeal to non-residents as this dyed in the wool Londoner. ( )
  Grammath | Mar 5, 2014 |
I was slightly disappointed in this book. It tells the story of various disparate characters, all of whom live, or are connected in some way with, Pepys Road, an affluent London Street. There is a couple with two young children, living well beyond their means: an old lady who has lived most of her life there and is now dying: an Asian family running a small shop, and a young gifted African footballer who has come to London to make his fortune in football, together with peripheral characters all connected with Pepys Road in some way

They each have their own story and I found the book somewhat 'bitty' as it alternated between them. I was far more interested in some characters than others, so there were parts I really enjoyed and others I found boring, so it wasn't a completely satisfactory read, but an OK book. ( )
  Malteser1 | Feb 13, 2014 |
The book features the various residents of Pepys Road, London, who include Roger, a rich banker and his materialistic wife Arabella; 82 year old widow Petunia Howe; shop owners Ahmed and Rohinka Kamal, and their two children; and a young footballer from Senegal and his father. The book starts in December 2007, when each house receives an anonymous postcard which simply says We Want What You Have. The mystery surrounding who is behind the postcards escalates, and provides the backdrop for the snapshots of these characters’ lives. It also shows that despite outward appearances – all the houses on the street are highly desirable and would sell for a huge profit, meaning that the residents are all sitting on a lot of money in assets – sometimes if people knew more about someone’s life, they most certainly would NOT want what that person has.

This book was chosen for our local book club, and produced very mixed reactions. I am firmly in the ‘loved it’ camp. Although it is near 600 pages long, I found myself reading it very quickly and being reluctant to put it down. The book not only concentrated on the residents of Pepys Road, but also their families, colleagues or friends. Everyone is dealing with their own issues, some big, some seemingly inconsequential, perhaps concerning love, money or work (and in a couple of cases, health).

What struck me the most was that as I grew familiar with the characters, I found myself changing my mind about many of them, perhaps liking them more or less than I did originally. The themes which ran through the story lines were relatable, and because of the way that the chapters wove in and out of the various characters’ lives, it never became boring. Just when I was wondering what would happen with one thread, the book carried on with a different one (that sounds like a complaint, but I actually really enjoyed that, and it was part of what made me keep reading).

The story is amusing in parts, and very sad in other parts. At times, the events are so everyday that it’s hard to know exactly what makes the story just so compelling, but it certainly kept me coming back for more.

(I don’t really feel that this review has done justice to the book. Basically I loved it, and want to recommend it to everybody!) ( )
1 vote Ruth72 | Jan 31, 2014 |
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At first light on a late summer morning, a man in a hooded sweatshirt moved softly and slowly along an ordinary-looking street in South London.
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Residents of Pepys Road in London receive odd, anonymous postcards demanding "We Want What You Have" during the financial meltdown of 2008.

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