I had not read anything by John Lanchester till I got the opportunity to read “Capital”. It was a great debut (for me) read. First, let me tell you something about the title of the book. Capital derives two meanings in the book – first being money, one of the central themes of the book and second, being London, where most of the action takes place and it being the Capital city of England.
Capital is a big book and has too many characters, close to twenty of them, out of which ten are primary and the other ten are secondary. All of them are connected to one street (Pepys Road), in one way or the other. A postcard arrives in almost everyone’s mail box stating, “We want what you have” and thus the story begins in unusual circumstances.
The story is set in 2007, around the time of banking crisis (hence the title is applicable here as well). The economy is down and everything is haywire. The characters are well-detailed and that is what hooked me to the book. The banker, who is desperate for a £1m bonus to maintain his wife’s and his own expectations of living standards, the Zimbabwean refugee, who is working as a parking attendant and overqualified to do that, the Asian family who own and work in the corner shop – with their own set of tension of love between and across generations, the Polish plumber, in his pursuit of a dream, the oldest resident of the street – an eighty-two year-old lady, coping with her health and the impact of this on her family, and the 17 year-old recent arrival in London, who is fast becoming a premiership football star.
The plot takes place here and like I said, lives are inter-connected (or not) only to make the book reach its fantastic (spoiler, hence not revealed) ending. Now something about the writing style. John Lanchester sure knows how to make almost every character (even the secondary ones) come alive. What works the most for the book is that the premise is global, though set in London. The readers can relate to the hardship, hopes, aspirations, dreams and lives of the citizens on Pepys Road and that for me is a great achievement of this book.
John Lanchester brings the entire novel to life with his writing. The interaction between characters is superlative and fits in brilliantly with the subtle themes. The entire novel has a Dickensian air about it and that only adds sometimes to the bleak narrative running through. The suspense element of the book remains intact right till the end, and shows itself all along. I enjoyed reading the book a lot. There were times I would also laugh out loud and times when I would feel bad for the characters. The book is laced with wit, compassion and above all truth of the situation and the society that we inhabit. Capital is one joyride of a read. I would definitely read more books written by him. As of now, this one is highly recommended.