Capital

John Lanchester

Capital

Pepys Road: an ordinary street in the Capital. Each house has seen its fair share of first steps and last breaths, and plenty of laughter in between. Today, through each letterbox along this ordinary street drops a card with a simple message: We Want What You Have. At forty, Roger Yount is blessed with an expensively groomed wife, two small sons and a powerful job in the City. An annual bonus of a million might seem excessive, but with second homes and nannies to maintain, he's not sure he can get by without it. Elsewhere in the Capital, Zbigniew has come from Warsaw to indulge the super-rich in their interior decoration whims. Freddy Kano, teenage football sensation, has left a two-room shack in Senegal to follow his dream. Traffic warden Quentina has exchanged the violence of the police in Zimbabwe for the violence of the enraged middle classes. For them all, this city offers the chance of a different kind of life. 3.7 out of 5 based on 12 reviews
Capital

Omniscore:

Classification Fiction
Genre General Fiction
Format Hardback
Pages 592
RRP £17.99
Date of Publication February 2012
ISBN 978-0571234608
Publisher Faber & Faber
 

Pepys Road: an ordinary street in the Capital. Each house has seen its fair share of first steps and last breaths, and plenty of laughter in between. Today, through each letterbox along this ordinary street drops a card with a simple message: We Want What You Have. At forty, Roger Yount is blessed with an expensively groomed wife, two small sons and a powerful job in the City. An annual bonus of a million might seem excessive, but with second homes and nannies to maintain, he's not sure he can get by without it. Elsewhere in the Capital, Zbigniew has come from Warsaw to indulge the super-rich in their interior decoration whims. Freddy Kano, teenage football sensation, has left a two-room shack in Senegal to follow his dream. Traffic warden Quentina has exchanged the violence of the police in Zimbabwe for the violence of the enraged middle classes. For them all, this city offers the chance of a different kind of life.

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Reviews

The Daily Telegraph

Keith Miller

Unimpeachably plausible ... There is a reticence, an austerity — to use a modish term — about the book that I very much liked. The obvious-seeming parallels with Dickens should not be inked in too heavily. Like Dickens, Lanchester makes some of his names work pretty hard (Shahid means “martyr”; “Smitty”, “Quentina Mkfesi” and “Arabella Yount” could scarcely be said to box below their weight, either); but he lacks Dickens’s nervous reliance on the grotesque, not to mention his no-stone-unturned sense of place. A more credible parallel is with Honoré de Balzac

23/02/2012

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The Evening Standard

Rosamund Urwin

… it is Lanchester's gifts for observation and description that make Capital such a riveting read. It is a novel in which every few chapters a sentence will provoke an "I wish I had said that" reaction or, when it is a familiar thought, an: "I wish I had said that so well." ... Above all, Lanchester should be applauded for a novel that is as readable as it is clever. He never attempts to prove his own intelligence, yet it oozes from every page.

23/02/2012

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The Sunday Times

Peter Kemp

Lanchester’s book rewardingly refurbishes the 19th-century condition-of-England novel. Presenting London as a microcosm of early-21st-century inequity and diversity, it takes you from the top of the London Eye to acell in Paddington Green police station, from scruffy-chic art hang-outs in Hoxton to a plutocratic banquet in the City, an asylum-seekers’ refuge in Tooting, a Clerkenwell gambling club, a Premiership League soccer club’s training ground, an African Anglican church in Balham and a host of other vividly rendered venues. Brimming with perception, humane empathy and relish, its portrayal of this metropolitan miscellany is, in every sense, a capital achievement.

26/02/2012

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The Spectator

Anthony Cummins

Capital is wonderful — warm, funny, smart — but you do feel John Lanchester might be afraid to fall flat on his face with a fuddy-duddy faux pas. So no black Britons or (equally weirdly) teenagers of any colour, unless you count a Senegalese football star whose job stops him doing anything teenagey. Yet this risk aversion proves valuable even as it dents the novel’s claim on relevance and verisimilitude ... The diffidence that narrows this novel’s view of London also spares it the job of getting inside the head of a jihadi, which, if you’ve read much fiction from the past ten years, is probably just as well.

10/03/2012

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The Times

Antonia Senior

Lanchester verges on being too heavy-handed with his message that money corrupts. With this slightly adolescent underlying theme, lapsing into caricatures would have been fatal. But Lanchester is too fine, and too clever, a writer to allow that to happen. His characters are richly and sympathetically drawn, even the ones we are not supposed to like much, such as Arabella. He handles their disparate story lines with immense skill. There is, too, a rich seam of wit running throughout the book, which makes it a treat to read, despite its serious intentions.

18/02/2012

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The Observer

Claire Tomalin

He tells a good story. He gives you a lot to think about. This is an intelligent and entertaining account of our grubby, uncertain, fragmented London society that has almost replaced religion with shopping. Read it.

04/03/2012

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The Independent

Boyd Tonkin

The novel's sheer conscientiousness means that, in its scrupulous attention to the costs, the kit and the trends, it can feel a bit like bricklaying. Its prose has a long view and a measured tread; it tells as much as it shows. It can trudge where it should skip, but — conversely — Lanchester seldom skimps or botches. The structure stands firm and whole, with scarcely a splinter in its carpentry (though I did wonder about the unfeasibly swift probate process on page 364). Yet it misses out on some of the demotic zip and swing of dialogue that lovers of London fiction have enjoyed from Dickens and Wells through to Kureishi and Zadie Smith ... On the other hand, London bricklaying has often built a robust, warm and inviting habitation. It does so here.

17/02/2012

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The Sunday Telegraph

Toby Clements

I’d hoped for wise words from a sage, someone to tell me how it really is. What he seems to be saying is that we shouldn’t panic, that despite appearances things are still pretty boring and they’ll carry on being that way for the foreseeable future. Perhaps that is true. We do tend to plug away and things tend to come out in the wash, but it doesn’t make for great drama. Capital is absorbing enough, but Lanchester is too subtle for this sort of thing, and where a bit of sturm und drang might have hit the spot, instead he gives us mild manners and grey skies.

26/02/2012

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The New Statesman

Leo Robson

Lanchester is fluent in the relevant codes at every level of society and on every rung of the property ladder, but vignettes don't add up to a vision. What's missing is a central device — a scam or legal case. There is a subplot of sorts — a harassment campaign aimed at the inhabitants of Pepys Road — but it has no propulsive force ... A group of characters linked by geography can thrive without a plot, just as a group of linked characters can thrive without shared geography. Dramatic interest doesn't have to be maintained at both the structural and local levels but it shouldn't be offered at neither.

05/03/2012

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Times Literary Supplement

Robert Potts

While this calculated avoidance of plot and character development and drama could have been a bold and realistic move, it seems, more disappointingly, to be the result of a disabling sentimentality: Lanchester looks on most of his cut-out creations kindly (Arabella is one striking exception), if sometimes condescendingly, and does not let any of his favourites get badly hurt ... The writing is mostly underpowered, and sometimes sloppy ... But there are some strong comic sections, and the treatment of family brings out the best in Lanchester

09/03/2012

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The Financial Times

Justin Cartwright

The trouble is that there is something weightless about many of the characters. Because they exist to add verisimilitude and universality, a kind of frenzied plate-spinning is required, as Lanchester visits all of them rather frantically in turn, like a man looking for his car keys ... I have admired Lanchester’s writing for years, so I pondered what may have gone wrong here. I came to the conclusion that all the characters needed to be central to the story of the Younts, rather than incidental habitués of the same street and, in a sense, of the same book. The result of this distance is that the reader doesn’t really care about the peripheral characters; they seem at times to be obstructing a perfectly good — even brilliant — story.

10/03/2012

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The Guardian

Theo Tait

… the recent fashion for neo-Victorian condition-of-England novels in the vein of Little Dorrit or The Way We Live Now — featuring a range of emblematic intersecting lives and at least one City villain — looks unlikely to produce any great works of art ... Capital is, like most of these books, seriously undertaken and solidly researched ... The main problem is that his characters never really transcend their origins; they play whatever structural role is allotted to them, and do little more than that.

25/02/2012

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