Top positive review
Rumours of a Hurricane
on 8 December 2013
Capital is a story of capitalism. 2008. One street - Pepys Road - a fictional street in south London has risen from humble workers' houses to desirable conversions for high-rolling bankers. The gentrification has happened gradually and blossomed recently, leaving some of the houses in the hands of long-standing residents who could not dream of affording to buy into such a prestigious area today. Hence Petunia, an octogenarian who has lived in Pepys Road all her life and the Kamals, shopkeepers of Pakistani heritage rub shoulders with Roger Yount, multi-millionaire banker, and Freddy, a Senegalese football prodigy who has just signed a contract with an unnamed west London Premiership football team.
Capital follows a year on the street, starting from the moment the residents receive postcards of their front doors with a simple message: We Want What You Have. This MacGuffin provides a bookend for a tumultuous year for Pepys Road. There are many strands of story as each of the residents' lives wax and wane, intersect and conflict. The characters are beautifully drawn - gentle, understated and sympathetic even when they do beastly things. And the supporting cast of servants, staff, underlings and traffic wardens play out beautifully. Each is convincing but is allowed enough individuality to avoid becoming stereotypes. There are surprises in the plot direction, but it is really the conversations and interaction that fizz and spark. The narrative is brilliantly understated with backhanded compliments and bons mots aplenty. This makes a long book fly by; it is brimming with interest and never feels bloated or stretched. If anything, by the end we wish it could have gone on - seen how some of the loose ends tie up.
Anyone who has lived in London will surely recognise the people - perhaps if not from their neighbours, then from those whose conversations they have to endure on the train. London is a diverse, multicultural city and some of the racial tensions are played out in Capital. I counted characters from Britain, Senegal, Zimbabwe, Poland, Hungary Nigeria and Pakistan. There were references to Italy, Belgium and Chechnya. It sets London up as a world capital, the centre of banking, commerce, art and refuge. It portrayed the city as young; the few older characters were out of place and adrift.
In 2002, Tim Lott published a novel called Rumours of a Hurricane, the story of the financial meltdown of the late 1980s. Ten years later, Capital represents the definitive fictional statement on the start of the Global Financial Crisis. Both novels capture a nation and its values, its aspirations and its people at a specific moment in history. Both are funny, readable and real. And both are ultimately heartbreaking.