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3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 17 August 2016
Capital by John Lanchester
Brilliant. Captivating read. I couldn’t put the book down. This book is a contemporary picture and analysis of life in the city of London UK (first two decades of the 21st century). Although it focuses on the story of one single street (Pepys Road in South London) it cleverly weaves in an enormous amount of colourful life stories and is full of vivid images about its inhabitants. It is a powerful display of parallel lives that intertwine but never mix.
True to that vast city, the characters come from diverse social and financial backgrounds: the Polish builder, the famous African footballer from a remote village in Africa bought by one of the city’s famous Premier League Club, the Muslim shopkeeper and his extended family originally from Pakistan, the very British banker working in the City, the Hungarian nanny, the white policeman investigating Pepys Road, the traffic warden refugee from Zwimbabwe working illegally, the extravagant and absurdly adulated white artist who hides behind his anonymity and so on. Each one of the characters came to London with dreams and hopes, works hard and fights his own battles. They live side by side and have only one thing in common: their street comes under some strange sort of threat.
The book feels so true to reality. The author has an amazing power of observation and analysis. He is able to get us into the heads of all those diverse characters. It is a feast.
The author doesn’t tie up the loose ends at the end. I wished for more (a good thing) and was left wondering what happened to a lot of the characters I cared for. However this is typical of London. People come and go and no one knows what happens to them.
The threat under which the street was, although intriguing at first, sort of fizzles out but this is unimportant. The book is a page turner and an authentic depiction of life in London. A treat.SWEET SUGAR
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 25 March 2016
I had this on my Kindle for a long time without reading it and only hunted it out when the TV adaptation was shown on the BBC. The TV show had left me a bit confused about 'whodunnit' and why and I hoped that the book would fill in the gaps. I'm not entirely sure that it did and in many respects, I couldn't help thinking that the TV adaptation made a good job of introducing a sense of tension and jeopardy that didn't come through well on paper (or rather on the screen).

The book is set in a gentrified London street and revolves around the lives of the inhabitants - from the hard working Pakistani family who run the corner store (what else!) to the elderly woman who has lived there since long before the location was even vaguely aspirational, to the family of the big bonus banker who represent new money. Into this background the writer also introduces topical subjects such as terrorism, racism, economic uprise and downturn, house price inflation and the dependency on relatively cheap immigrant workers.

I enjoyed it but wouldn't say it was outstanding. It drags a little, some characters really don't 'gel' (the young footballer was easily slashed out of the adaptation and not missed in the slightest) but it's a good morality tale of modern London life.
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on 28 January 2016
Mixed feelings! As others have noted, Capital is a compelling novel. However, of the many characters in the book there is none that particularly stands out. One could almost say they are very stereotypical of their culture, profession or background. The plot around which the tale revolves is rather weak and progresses very sporadically through the book. It was easy to guess the perpetrator long before the end. There are parts of the book where the editing is very poor, with a lot of word or sentence repitition. There are some chapters where you feel as if the author is reintroducing you to a character as they haven't been mentioned for a couple of chapters. So much so, that I ended up speed reading past some paragraphs or pages. Overall, a reasonable yarn which could have been deeper and more rewarding.
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on 27 January 2015
The inhabitants of Pepys Street all have their different forms of capital in which they have invested; for Roger Yount the banker there is the status that his huge annual bonuses bring; for Mary it is her family; for Freddy it is his talent for football that has brought him to London from Senegal; for artist Smitty it is his long cultivated anonymity; for the Kamals it is the peace that comes from their faith. And yet all of them risk losing their capital as a result of the changes that gentrification brings. Nor the least of these is the anonymous photographs that appear through their letter boxes depicting their own house and the message “We want what your have”. The stories intermingle though they don’t quite interlock and the mystery of the postcards is solved a little limply. The book is longer than it needs to be and some of the characters are just not very engaging. A pleasant read though not an unmissable one.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 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.
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on 15 November 2016
Premature to write a review as I didn't finish the book. A friend of mine was reviewing my latest novel set in a financial background. She suggested that I read this book on how to write a novel with a financial background. I bought a Kindle version and I went through perhaps 100 pages, 10 or 12 chapters all providing a context, setting scene, but nothing was happening. Its the residents of a block of flats in Lambeth, the back story of each. Get on with it man.

One day I will complete the book and update this review.
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VINE VOICEon 26 May 2013
John Lanchester's 'Capital' feels like it's the author's state-of-the-nation novel; as much a slice of social history as it is novel. Its grand scope and size certainly lends it the air of a Victorian-style epic, and although perhaps a shade too long, it does, ultimately, both entertain and provoke thought on how we live.

The basic premise of the book is a mystery, with a series of increasingly disturbing and threatening 'We Want What You Have' messages being delivered anonymously to the various residents of Pepys Road, London. This gives Lanchester the canvas on which to explore the lives of several inhabitants, from the wealthy banker with the lazy wife, to the dying widow, the Muslim-run family shop, the immigrant football star, the asylum-seeker, the wheeler-dealer property tycoon etc. None of the stories that unfold really connect, and it's the location where they live than the lives they lead that joins the story together. Impressively, there is a sense of actually caring about most of the characters, when usually in fiction like this the people tend to be annoying stereotypes.

The thread that holds the book together - the mystery of who is running the 'We Want What You Have' campaign - fizzles out towards the end and loses some of its momentum, but by this time the characters themselves have become more interesting and actually become more engaging as a way of concluding things. Lanchester's narrative is a little uneven at times, and some sectoins are more interesting tha others, but overall the book is certainly entertaining. The reach of the novel perhaps means some strands are not as neatly tied up as they might be with a leaner form of storytelling, but generally it works pretty well. A long read, but certainly rewarding.
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on 6 April 2015
Mixed feelings on this one. One of those stories about groups of loosely connected characters based on a London Street over a period of change. Sprinkle in some crime, deaths and even terrorism. Not a thriller, some romance but even a pinch of police procedural. Many of the characters I found dull but some were excellent. The backdrop of London as the capital in the title whilst the capital i.e. asset of property and money provided the links of the story.

Did not enthrall me but a steady story nonetheless.
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on 21 July 2013
I really enjoyed this. Basically a satire which romps through 2006-8, from the peak of the housing prices in London to the first bank crashes thanks to toxic assets. The story had multiple threads linked through the residents of one street, and covered the full social range of people from city traders to immigrant builders, original (ancient) residents of the street with history, asylum seekers and the Muslims who own the local shop, with a host of colourful characters in between.

With such a big cast, most of them were a bit cardboard-ish, but that's to be expected in a satire anyway. Similarly, some of the sub-plots were rather predictable, but given that it's a modern-day satire then they would have to be.

It was very funny, very well written and I read it in just a few gulps. Going to look for more of this author.
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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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