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614
3.9 out of 5 stars
Capital
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 25 August 2014
This book grew and grew on me. There were times when I kept thinking "why doesn't he get on with the story?" But gradually I began to appreciate more and more what John Lanchester was doing...building up snapshots of a group of very different people united only by their links, direct or otherwise, with Pepys Road. As the book progresses each of the protagonists experience some sort of life changing event but they remain essentially isolated from most of the other members of the loose community and are not able to share or celebrate or commiserate with each other. In this sense then the book is a parable of modern city living. I grew to care deeply about each of the characters and felt in turn distressed when things went wrong or rejoiced when things went well. Through the book John Lanchester's empathy shines through and the book reminds the reader that it is dangerous and wrong to make snap judgements or assumptions about the people around us no matter how much their immediate actions may tempt us to do so. The book also celebrates the richness of our multicultural society but does not shrink from going into some dark places.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
`Capital' is a novel which seems to aim to reflect the sheer diversity of London, featuring a disparate cast of very different characters, who live or are otherwise connected with the same affluent street. The title also partly refers to the monetary sense of the word, as the events take place around the time of the financial `downturn' of 2007-2008, and several characters are directly affected by the consequences.
It is an ambitious undertaking and a long book, and impressive in its ability to depict a range of people and scenarios with veracity. It's not quite a comedy, but it is written in a dryly humorous way. Given the sheer number of characters (I counted at least 19 point of view characters alone), Lanchester does a reasonable job of keeping all the various threads going throughout, but inevitably there are lulls where a character doesn't feature for a long time and when they reappear you've partly forgotten their story.

The story is held together by a central mystery - some anonymous postcards sent to residents, later escalating into more overt harassment. Although much of the book is taken up with the individual stories and circumstances of the characters, this unifying storyline is a good idea and does give the novel some much needed coherence. However I think it would have been harder to keep up with if read in small sections - I was lucky enough to read most on a long journey. I suspect readers only able to manage a chapter or two at time will find themselves frustrated as they struggle to pick up again when a character has disappeared for a long while.

It's certainly readable and entertaining, and easy to get into despite its length. Lanchester does sometimes write extremely long sentences, but other that doesn't have any obvious annoying stylist quirks. The characters are mostly interesting, with just a couple verging on caricature. Few writers could successfully combine such diverse themes as performance art, investment banking, asylum seeking, Premier league football, police procedure, care of the terminally ill, terrorism, and consumer culture, into one book. But Lanchester pretty much does, without ever sounding particularly ill at ease with any of these themes.

Of course, it lacks a bit of focus, but that's the nature of the book. I did like the way that all the storylines were seen to their conclusion and tied off properly, even if some of the outcomes were unexpected or unhappy. I didn't have a great deal of emotional connection with the characters, because they simply didn't get enough page time in their own right, but it's not really that sort of book. It won't stay with me forever, because it just didn't have that degree of emotional resonance, but it was a diverting enough read. It would be a good holiday read - to enable reading in bigger `chunks' - and would appeal to both genders (unlike some lighter books that I consider `holiday reads'). Other than that, it has such a broad range of subjects there is probably something for everyone. Short-story fans might also particularly like its bitesized sub-storylines.
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275 of 302 people found the following review helpful
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 16 March 2014
I thought the use of one established road as a device to take a snapshot of 21st century capitalism in London was a good idea but in the event very few households were included in the narrative. The Pakistani corner shop seemed a bit contrived but added an important dimension to the stories.
I always felt that in the next chapter we would be introduced to other kinds of inhabitants: a large family living on benefits; a house divided into University accommodation; a pop star; a super model; a couple who both had careers and shared childcare. (Recently a BBC documentary covered this and the couple who did all their care by working shifts only spent 9 hours a week together).
I found I cared for all the characters except possibly Roger’s wife! How can you spend so much money?
I was glad there was a relatively happy ending for Freddy.
The traffic warden story was enlightening for me. I always wondered how people who were allowed to stay and not work were able to keep themselves.
It was well written and easy to read. I liked the short chapters.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 14 March 2012
I thoroughly enjoyed this but would not have bought it if I hadn't read WHOOPS! which is excellent. However, that was non-fiction and this is story-telling with a rich cast of characters. I found myself skimming the football bits and wanting more from Amanda, the banker's wife. But I was always gripped and keen to continue. My only complaint is that I wish there'd been a body count - a bit of blood would have dressed this up nicely. I think the book needed that. It always stayed civilised. I'm not sure all aspects of London are civilised. Where were the drugs, the messed up teenagers etc? Everyone in this book is nice and civilised and clean living! The Banksy character is level-headed and wakes early, the traffic warden is keen to improve her figure, the banker isn't cut-throat AT ALL, the Polish guys are so sweet and hand-working, the woman set to inherit loads when her mother dies is beyond discreet about that fact, the teenage footballer is a gentle puppy, the harridan Indian matriarch is actually just a sweetie, the put-upon Indian muslim is just being friendly to the floppy terrorist when he invites him to stay. MY God, everyone is so lovely!! I love them all because none of them got up my nose but I WANTED them to get up my nose! Even the criminal in the end was gentle and ineffectual. The cop is paternalistic. Lanchester should move to the countryside where the REAL VENOM is. This is home of the bankers and their greed and corruption. I think the nicey-nice bankers stay in London and the real bastards live in the countryside.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
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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91 of 106 people found the following review helpful
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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