The Capital of the World

Capital, by John Lanchester (Faber & Faber, fiction, published February 2012)

London, December 2007.  It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  The city was never more prosperous, more densely populated, more multicultural, more fashionable, artistically edgier, … more nervous.  Lehman Brothers was still a bank (…just), and the 7/7 bombings were still echoing in the headlines.  Then enters… Roger Yount: a super rich investment banker with the dream city job, a house in the country, skiing in Switzerland, summers in France, and Christmas… well, Christmas… patiently waiting for the one million pound bonus he not only thinks he deserves, but needs in the way the rest of us need the air that we breathe: otherwise this world of his, with it’s cloud capped towers and gorgeous palaces, will dissolve, like that selfsame air, into nothing.

John Lanchester is a writer of international standing and with a string of prizes to his name; but ‘Capital’, he says, is the book he waited his lifetime to write.  He takes the Government’s often repeated line ‘we’re all in this together’, holds a mirror to London, and says ‘no we’re not’: because for all the city’s teeming streets and houses, and the ebb and flow of countless people from every corner of the Earth marching as if to one tune, he concludes that London’s is an atomised population, where the life of each person is lived oblivious to those around them.

Now, I kind of get what he means.  Take Edinburgh, for example: it has long been said of Edinburgh that you can live next door to people for years without ever getting to know them, or what their lives are like.  It is in many ways, I suppose, quite a private place, Edinburgh.  Lanchester takes a similar idea – the fictional Pepys Road – and one by one shows the lives of the people in the houses (one of whom is Roger), and the Zimbabwean traffic warden who patrols the parked Lamborghinis like a crouching tiger, as as far removed from one another as crossing continents.  Rather than being all in this together, like the lost communities of yesteryear, these people rub shoulders without any regard for one another, like laser beams criss-crossing through darkness.

The plot thickens, as he skillfully introduces each new character: a budding premier league football star, newly arrived from Africa; the old lady who lives alone like Eleanor Rigby; the Polish builder, Spanish nanny, the Pakistani shopkeeper at the end of the road.  Every householder receives a mysterious message through their door, simply reading “We Want What You Have.”  What can it mean: a threat, an estate agent’s pitch, or perhaps even some kind of new art form?

I wouldn’t, of course, spoil the surprises, suffice to say that the plot is excellent and will have you at times laughing out loud.  In the end I urge you to read this book because it is easy: it’s written so well you hardly notice the pages turning, by a man who intimately knows the place, and for all its faults still loves it; and while perhaps not a very great book, it’s a great book nonetheless.

If you’ve got a kindle, or even if you don’t, you can buy it here:http://www.amazon.co.uk/Capital-ebook/dp/B0071LQMMG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1335562114&sr=8-1 or why not call in to Blackwells on South Bridge? http://bookshop.blackwell.co.uk/jsp/editorial/shops/SHOP21.jsp.  You might even bump in to one of your neighbours.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s