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Book 121: Capital by John Lanchester

Book 121: Capital.
Author: John Lanchester, 2012.
Genre: Contemporary. Relationships. Social Issues.
Other Details: Hardback. 577 pages.

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.
- synopsis from UK publisher's website.

This is very much an ensemble novel in the same vein as Amanda Craig's Hearts and Minds and J. K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy where contemporary society is examined through the lens of the day-to-day lives of a cross-section of inhabitants in a South London street over the course of a year. Of course, this kind of novel isn't new as Charles Dickens used a similar format to address the social issues of his day.

The above publisher's synopsis isn't inclusive of the all characters found in the novel, who each have their own stories. Lanchester had to focus on a small group even within Pepys Road and then use them to tell the larger story of London and its inhabitants during the period. The novel is set in 2007/2008 and so deals with the state of the nation during the financial crash of 2008.

I certainly enjoyed this novel though not quite as much as I did Amanda Craig's Hearts and Minds, which I felt was tighter in its pacing. The novel proved a good reading group selection as it allowed for discussion on a number of social issues as well as how the author used his narrative to capture a snapshot of London. It was well received by us all and we talked a fair amount about the strengths and weaknesses of various characters.

The novel was selection by The Guardian for its own Book Club earlier this year. I've included links to the relevant articles under the cut.

The Omniscient Narrator - article about 'Capital by John Mullan 1st March 2013.

My Big Fat London novel - article by John Lanchester 8th March 2013.

John Lanchester Podcast - why he peopled 'Capital' with characters across the city's classes.
Tags: british, contemporary, current events, drama, race

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