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on 22 January 2014
The story begins "At first light on a late summer morning..." with a mysterious man creepily filming the houses of Pepys Road. The prologue kick-starts the chain of unsettling events that tenuously link the characters together.

Capital goes on to introduce a wealth of very different characters. Just to mention some of them there's Roger Yount the banker and his family; Mary, whose mother is dying of cancer; Freddy the footballer from Senegal; and an artist rather like Banksy. Naturally they're all live quite different lives and they're captured very well, being believable and very interesting. I enjoyed reading of Freddy's first steps into the English Premier League as his father tries to get used to an unfamiliar country, while Mary's story is certainly emotional as she struggles to come to terms with her mother's condition.

The mystery of the postcards never really gripped me, and I found that disappointing. It started well, but I soon lost interest. Even as it progresses this part of the plot never prompts the characters to feel more than concern about antisocial behaviour. But while the plot alone wouldn't have been enough to keep me hooked, the characters are varied, well-presented, and it's all very believable. Their individual stories kept me turning pages, and because of that I did enjoy reading Capital.
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on 16 September 2013
The house prices in Pepys Road, South London, have risen to astronomical levels, making existing owners rich and excluding all but the wealthiest new buyers. Predictably,given its focus on this single street, a central character in the novel is banker Roger Yount. Other dramatis personae are surprisingly varied, including an Asian newsagent and his extended family, an elderly lady who has lived in Pepys Road all her life, a young Senegalese football star, a Polish builder, a Zimbabwean traffic warden who has been refused asylum in the UK, and an artist who thrives on his anonymity (clearly based on Banksy).

The novel is part 'whodunnit', as the police try to identify the sender of mysterious postcards and DVDs to the residents of the road. But as the punning title suggests, the book's central theme is money won or lost, made and spent. Lanchester's London is a giant casino in which careers either blossom or are blighted, fortunes turn and turn again.

Although some of the characters are vain, thoughtless or vulgar, there are few out and out villains in the book. Indeed the tone is perhaps more soft-hearted than I had expected and there are some fine comic creations, particularly Mrs Kamal, mother of the newsagent, with her facility for needling criticism. Yet even she is revealed to have hidden strengths when a family crisis demands the best from her. I see that other readers have found the novel too dependent on stereotypes but I feel that the author rounds out his characters enough for us to feel interested in them as individuals rather than as members of a category. The exception is perhaps Roger's wife, the vacuous and selfish Arabella, who appears to have few redeeming characteristics, her only interest in life to spend large chunks of her husband's income.

This may not be 'a great London novel' to match the work of such illustrious forebears as Trollope but it is certainly a great, unputdownable read.
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on 21 June 2013
This is a book of Dickensian proportions, yet set in one road. It follows the fortunes of a number of contrasting families, whose lives are bound together by where they live: Pepys road in south London. Beautifully written and with characterisation that interests and impels, it carries the reader along a series of events and changes that are wholly believable and that make you long to know more.
I absolutely loved this book: I couldn't bear to put it down until I had finished it but now that I have I want it to go on forever. Thank you,John Lanchester.
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on 28 February 2012
Perhaps John Lanchester has fallen prey to the hyperbole of his well meaning journalist colleagues: I had great expectations from the press for this novel and its reported ambition to pull together all the threads that make London what it is today: to be "The Way We Live Now" for the 21st century.

The premise is genius - take a south London street and its occupants from the old school banker heading for a fall, along with everyone else, to the old lady, the last of the ordinary pre-professional class who is dying, and use it as a prism to view London the city and the City of London. I recognised the street - hell, I live in a south London street between a retired electrician and his wife, who do indeed still have lino in the kitchen, and a banker who's putting in a loft conversion - and I recognised every single one of the characters from the banker's wife to the Polish builder. The plot bounces along, the writing is clean and well structured and it does manage to link all the disparate characters together in a way that doesn't jar. I want to love it and yet.....and yet......

The thing is: I know all this, and you do too. You know the characters if you've had a drink in a City bar, have employed a Polish builder, watched a episode of Gavin and Stacey, taken a trip to Harvey Nicks, watched Peston on the news and have heard of Banksy. I wanted more heft, more nuance, more insight, characters who were flesh and blood, not illustrations of a type. In short, I wanted more than a confirmation of what I can see around me every day. Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner.

"Capital" is worth the read, but wait for the paperback and a long flight. It may be the way we live now, but it won't be "The Way We Live Now" in a hundred years.
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I suppose that I am like a number of people, in that I saw the TV series of this (which was okay as such) and decided to read the novel. There are a number of characters here which were left out of the series, and there are a few other slight differences.

Starting in December 2007 and then following through to late 2008 we are taken to Pepys Road in South London where we get to know some of the residents, those who work in the road and the people that they mingle with. One thing I think that I should make clear in case anyone wants to go and find a Pepys Road where the novel is set, is that you won’t find one. I am aware of two roads in South London with this name, one I don’t know that well, and the other which I do know quite well, neither of which are near the locality of this tale. In fact the name of the road is rather irrelevant as this could apply to much of London. For instance the houses in this road were built for the lower end of the middling classes in the Victorian period. Because of this the road has gone through various inhabitants within different classes over the years, but now the house prices are large and this has become one of those rising places for the younger and richer spectrum of the market.

We see the elderly woman who lives by herself as she is a widow. The wealthy family whose father is in the banking industry, the immigrant who has come over as he has a place as a professional footballer, and the family who own and run the corner shop. Along with these there are a couple of nannies, and a Polish builder. Giving a cross section of different people in London some of this works well, whereas other bits do not quite take off.

With a mystery element by way of a campaign called ‘We Want What You Have’ there is also a quick look at terrorism, illegal immigration and the pursuit of money. In some ways a moral fable and implying that money doesn’t buy happiness there is quite a bit to enjoy about this tale. With some machinations and romance this does have a lot of threads that should keep you interested. The title of this novel can be taken as meaning the country’s capital and also capital as in Marx’s work and his beef about capitalism.

I did think of a few other things from over the years whilst reading this, such as the Polish builder who goes about how he tenders for a job, which reminded me of a documentary about UKIP where a couple of British builders were blaming immigrants for taking away their business. What they seemed to be moaning about was that a couple of foreign builders were prepared to do the job for slightly less pay and work a longer day to get it finished quicker. Most of us can’t see a problem with this, after all it is the point of putting out tenders for work in the first place.

Also raised here is the problem of those who enter the country illegally or outstay their welcome. As this shows there can be some problems when it comes to deportation and the whole process is too slow. This could well make a good read for book groups as it raises enough issues and problems that could lead to interesting discussions.
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on 8 September 2013
Based on the people who live in one street in London. From Petunia the elderly working class resident who has lived there all her life and now sits on a million pound asset; Quintena who has made me rethink how lucky we British are in our safe world provided for from cradle to grave; a Polish builder trying to save to provide for parents back home - and the Mounts! You will not get fed up loathing that selfish woman!
Some great characters and some a little weaker but a great book. It is a huge book with lots of little pictures of other peoples lives. Great for a holiday read.
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on 10 July 2013
I would describe Capital as a literary version of a photo album of 21st century London living. I say this because it dips in and out of the lives of the characters, with their stories reading like you're viewing snapshots. The characters include a middle-aged banker, his shopahlolic wife, their Hungarian nanny, a Polish builder, an elderly woman who discovers she is terminally ill, a young football player from Senegal who comes to London to play in the premiere league, a Pakistani family who own the local convenience shop, an artist who is famous mostly for his anonymity as well as his outrageous stunts (or art as he calls it) [sound familiar?], the artist's `wannabe' assistant, and a traffic warden from Zimbabwe. What all these characters have in common is Pepys Road.

Pepys Road is an ordinary street in South London. Over the years the value of the houses on the street has increased, most dramatically as a result of the property boom of the late 90s to early 00s. It is common knowledge that they are worth in the region of £1M or more. The residents receive cards posted through their letter box that state "We want what you have." This starts to happen on a regular basis and turns into a campaign of some kind that they find curious at first, and worrying later on, as the campaign becomes more menacing with time, including a website of the same slogan with pictures of the residents' houses. The novel becomes a sort of mystery as to who is responsible.

As a native Londoner, I really enjoyed Capital. The characters are generalised but, rather than stereotyping, John Lanchester presents a perceptive and observational study of multicultural London. I found it very funny in parts and poignant in others.

It truly is a great read, a definite favourite for me and one I will revisit.
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on 19 May 2012
I nearly give this book the dreaded three star review, standing for middle of the road average. An easy enough read, this is a novel about London life as it might be for a lot of Londoners. If you know the city, it certainly feels authentic, and the characters have an integrity about them that pulls you through the plot when it would have been quite easy to allow them to be either stereotypes or caricatures. It's a close run thing though, and Lanchester just gets away with some of the portrayals of the lives of a City Banker, a Polish handyman, an old age pensioner and erm, I've forgotten most of the others.
This book was given rave reviews by the London press, but it fell short of the hype for me. The rave reviews should have been for his previous book "Whoops", a non-fictional account of the financial crisis. A lot of the insight and anger in that book could have been better applied in this novel, I felt. There were some set pieces that were built to allow some pointed rants at some of our societies' ills and errors, but instead I felt the author decided to go and make a nice cup of tea instead. He took the easy route too often, and maybe had grown to like some of his creations too much to put them in dire pearl. Even the obnoxious banker's wife gets some sort of Sunday supplement redemption in the end.
So, what could have been a great novel became, for me, merely a good one. Pity, really.
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I liked John Lanchester's previous book Whoops and was looking forward immensely to Capital. It had been hailed as possibly the State of the Nation novel of the decade.

Capital is a diverting enough read but it lacks the insight and incisiveness that you would hope for from a really good book. The plot involves a myriad of characters linked to addresses in Pepys Road. Unfortunately many of these come over as stereotypes - the greedy banker, the selfish wife, the hard-working Pole, the devout Muslims, the heroic refugee. The writing is good but far from brilliant.

One problem is that Capital is not different enough from similar novels published recently - such as Sebastian Faulks' A Week in December or Hearts and Minds by Amanda Craig. Although it is an entertaining book but I was disappointed as I was expecting something more.

I am sure there is a State of the Nation novel of the decade somewhere - but this isn't it.

(I dithered about the star rating - would have opted for 3 and a half so erred on the side of kindness!)
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on 1 April 2013
What I had read about this book suggested that it was an account of the banking crash and how it happened. It's much more than that. Lanchester presents his banking people, and especially Roger and Arabella Lount, without judgement--he simply lets us see what they do and why, and we don't need any nudges from him to know that we are watching some of the greediest and most obnoxious fictional creations for many years. Set against this are "ordinary" people (none of Lanchester's characters is really ordinary--he's too good at bringing people to life for that) and how they fare in the greedy, grasping world that has arisen around them. Whether he is talking about English, Pakistani, Polish or Hungarian residents, they are real and we feel with and for them--and his Zimbabwean woman facing deportation is a little gem of character portrayal. A lot of research has gone into this book, but it isn't visible. A great read.
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