Capital, by John Lanchester, is a capital read

imageBook Review

The book jumped out and arrested my attention from the display at my local bookshop. The first impression was reinforced by Andrew, manager and supplier of the shop’s excellent cookies.

Capital, he said, had wowed his book-reading group. He then insisted on reading an extract as I consumed one of his units of production – a chocolate cookie – together with a less than skinny Latte. Of course, I was also thinking of another book. A century ago, [1867] Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital, one of the most influential books of all time and which translates into Capital.

Andrew and his excellent Latte made it a done deal. I left a shop with a copy of this novelby the English writer John Lanchester, set in London in the period approaching the great financial crisis of 2008.

It was published in 2012, shortly before the arrival pf the best-selling economic analysis also entitled Capital, and written by the French economist Piketty. Lanchester, so Andrew told me, had chosen the title for its multiple meanings. The book was about economic capital, set in the Capital city, with ironic hints at capital meaning excellent. Duh.

In the book, a cast of interesting characters is assembled around Pepys Road, a suburban location that has through a twist of economic fate made the occupants rich simply because all the houses there ‘as if by magic, were now worth millions of pounds.’ The reader is warned in these words in the book’s prologue that this blissful state of affairs would not last. Nor did it. Most readers will need little reminding of the approaching financial devastation of 2008.

The writing is clear, deceptively easy to follow, and full of authoritative touches. The book is an enjoyable read. Its rather unobtrusive plot concerns mysterious and threatening messages received by the occupants of Pepys Road. Readers were led to believe they were from a creative estate agent, but this was discounted as the messages became darker. The police are called in.

Even more interesting is the unfolding of the personal stories of the characters who are deftly described with insight and empathy, from the over-extended financial executive, the football star from Senegal, the traffic warden, and the Pakistani family running the local shop.

Half-way through the book, I briefly began to feel that I was reading a story that had been rather too carefully constructed, one that would elegantly unfold towards a satisfactory resolution. There was a satisfactory closure that matched the subtlety of the plotting.

To say more would risk plot-spoiling. I can only add the first LWD review five star recommendation for this enjoyable and thought-provoking tale.

Recommendation for LWD subscribers: *****

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