Capital – John Lanchester


Capital is the story of London at the beginning of the 21st century, when the boom was booming and before the banks went broke.

The story revolves around the residents of Pepys Rd, where house prices exceed a million pounds.  Each resident is the recipient of a series of unsettling postcards and videos containing the words We want what you have.  As the story progresses we see into each house at the moment a post card is received, but the story takes us further than that, showing family events and feelings, the comings and goings, the related workplaces. The book tells the story of the changes that take place in these houses during the course of the next year. These are not just the story of one street, but a microcosm of London itself in the days before the financial crash.

Unravelling the mystery of the postcards is a secondary concern: it’s a device for linking these disparate households.  The stories of the inhabitants is the real focus – love and sex, life and money, art and business: we see the characters in relation to the key human concerns of pleasure and survival.

Capital is a London full of immigrants: a Pole, a Hungarian, a Pakistani family, a Zimbabwean refugee, a young football star from Senegal, and two English families make up the starring roles.  The English appear as semi-caricatures – a performance artist with a passing resemblance to Banksy, and a public school educated middle aged banker, though there is also plenty of room for caricature in the representation of the Pakistani family and the Polish builder: in many ways these are types, but they are well done types.

The story is told with wit and compassion: I laughed out loud – a rare occurrence as a wry smile is usually my limit.  The section showing the relationships in the Kamal family was at its best with the appearance of the mother-in-law – harridan and heroine.  There was romance and mystery, vitality and old age – all told with clarity and precision – and well worth a read.

Guardian Review – Very good!!


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