Capital
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Capital

3.66 of 5 stars 3.66  ·  rating details  ·  5,335 ratings  ·  868 reviews
Celebrated novelist John Lanchester (“an elegant and wonderfully witty writer”—New York Times) returns with an epic novel that captures the obsessions of our time.

It’s 2008 and things are falling apart: Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers are going under, and the residents of Pepys Road, London—a banker and his shopaholic wife, an old woman dying of a brain tumor and her gra...more
Hardcover, 528 pages
Published June 11th 2012 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 2012)
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Robert Hodgson
You know those breadsticks you get in Italian restaurants? You crunch them before the real food arrives. It's impossible to love them or hate them - they're just kind of OK.
If the packet they came in said "utterly brilliant" you'd say "don't be silly."
What you really want is a thick bloody steak (Mantel) or a lethal green chilli (Murakami) but you can crunch away at this until the real thing comes along.
I don't see how anyone can love this book or hate it - it's just bland - clichéd characters p...more
Breakingviews
By Peter Thal Larsen

Banking is fiction’s hidden profession. Despite decades of financial expansion, novelists and playwrights have struggled to imagine a contemporary Shylock or Augustus Melmotte, the shadowy star of Anthony Trollope’s “The Way We Live Now”. A quarter of a century has passed since Tom Wolfe dreamt up Sherman McCoy, the bond trader who personified the arrogance and greed of an earlier boom in “The Bonfire of the Vanities”. With the crisis wreckage still smouldering, the character...more
Bobbie Darbyshire
I’ve formed the habit of checking on the one-star Amazon reviews (there are always some) of each book I read, to decide if I share their view. At time of writing, this book has 452 reviews and averages 4 stars, so what did the 25 odd-readers-out take exception to? Well, in summary they say (a) the characters are stereotypes, (b) it doesn’t have much story, and (c) it is padded with too many words. Do I agree? (a) No, this criticism in my view entirely misses the point. The cast is indeed chosen...more
Alan
I enjoy titles which have layers of meaning. I enjoy the cleverness and I appreciate the sign-posting they provide so I can make sure that I don't miss a thread woven into the story. As layered titles go, John Lanchester's Capital isn't particularly difficult to penetrate: there is Capital as Money, and there is Capital as London and the fact that, to Lanchester, the first defines the second adds an admirable tidiness to the layers. All in all, it's a good title. The only problem is that it's be...more
Rob
Oct 02, 2012 Rob rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Nobody
Shelves: fiction
This book started of very promising. Set against the backdrop of a very wealthy London neighborhood just before (and during the beginning of) the financial crisis, the book explored the lives of several very different people. A banker, his selfish wife, a refugee, a soccer phenom imported from an African village, a dying woman, her daughter, a polish laborer, a family of Muslim immigrants, and a couple others.

I have to say, the first third of the book I was very into it. Plots were developing, c...more
A.
John Lanchester had me hooked from page one of this 500-page novel. My expectation was that he was going to show us how the financial meltdown of 2008 effected the lives of the people on one London street. He does that to some extent, but what he really delivers is an intimate look at life right before the crash happened.

The people of Pepys Road are mostly upper and upper middle class folks and Lanchester takes us in and out of their houses in smoothly written prose that is just the right mix of...more
F.R.
The first two definitions for ‘capital’ in the Oxford English Dictionary run thus:

Capital ˃ noun
1. The city or town that functions as the seat of government and administrative capital of the country or region: Warsaw is the capital of Poland.
* (with modifier) a place associated more than any other with a specified activity or product: the fashion capital of the world.
2. (mass noun) wealth in the form of money or other assets owned by a person or organisation or available for a purpose such as...more
Larraine
Although it's early in the year, this novel is a finalist in my "favorite book of the year" contest. I hadn't read anything by John Lanchester before so I was unprepared for the elegance, humor and irony in the language. The book takes place in London, just before the economic collapse. We meet a wide range of characters centering around a street called Pepys Street that has recently become gentrified. The homes are bought by the up and coming who then pour lavish amounts of money to make the ho...more
Meera
It's not the definitive London novel, however hard it tries to be. I did enjoy reading it, but I think its pretty much a copy of the idea of Sebastian Faulks' A week in December, which does this same story better. A cross section across London society, cleverly encapsulated in the idea of people living in the same road and how their fortunes and misfortunes intertwine: the rich family in which the father works in the city, the poor pensioner who has lived in her house through the years to see it...more
Matthew Gaughan
I was hoping, given the title of the book and Lanchester's excellent series of essays in the LRB on the financial meltdown of 2007/08 and its consequences, that Capital would be a great novel about the partial collapse of neoliberal capitalism. Instead, its title is quite straightforward: it's a book about London. Money is a central theme, but it's a thin thread in a novel which is a sequence of short stories that hang together well but don't excite. There are far too many characters, each one a...more
Lisa
This book details the events and past history of several families in Pepys Road, Lambeth from late 2007 to late 2008. I liked most of the characters, my favourite probably being Ahmed and Roger. There's a woman nursing a dying relative, a lost fortune found, the ubiquitious Eastern European builders and nannies, the crash of the banking system, Muslim terrorism, the lazy spoilt wife of a banker and the Asian family working all the hours that Allah sends in their newsagent/mini-mart shop plus a l...more
Edmole
I wanted to read this as it is set on a fictionalised Pepys Road, a couple of stone's throws from my new home in Brockley , moving to which from Finsbury Park has knocked a year off my life.


Pepys Road is one of the many places around London built to house the Lower Middle Class in Victorian Times which have got more and more valuable in the seemingly endless post war housing bubbleboom. It's a mystery, told from the perspective of a few residents of the road - someone is gently stalking the resi...more
Jill
Take Sebastian Faulks’ A Week in December, add in healthy dollops of Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities and Hector Tobar’s The Barbarian Nurseries and you’ll have some idea what to expect from John Lanchester’s CAPITAL.

Like these other books, CAPITAL presents a panoramic view: in this case, of London at the cusp of a new and turbulent economic age. He focuses on a cross-section of residents and workers on a fictional and prestigious London treat including a well-heeled banker and his shopaholic...more
NancyKay
Wanted to love this so much, and enjoyed it, and it kept my good-will throughout, BUT. There were too many characters, many of them not finely drawn enough; it was satirical but maybe not satirical enough; and by the end it was hard to either grieve or cheer for outcomes that felt curiously flat -- some characters seemed to get away too cleanly, and the suffering of others was somehow blunted by the essential cheeriness of the writing.

The book also disappointed in that it set up an expectation,...more
Tim
This book is almost a pure delight. Sprawling in scope (the City, property, money, the upper-middle classes, the immigrant classes, sport, sport as business, work, love, and did I say property?), deeply insightful, and thoroughly engaging. It's set largely on the (fictionalized) Pepys Road (an inspired name), which affords Lanchester a view that is both microscopic and macroscopic:

"Over its history, almost everything that could have happened in the street had happened. Many, many people had fall...more
Sandra
Capital: a town considered the governmental center, a serious offense, an asset, slang for "first rate", related to death or the death penalty. All of these are covered or, at least, referenced in John Lanchester's broad and detailed examination of the several stories set in London. The main setting is Pepys Road, that has now become attractive to "new money" folk who want a fashionable location.

Roger and Arabella Yount are the rich high-flyers who are clearly destined for a financial meltdown....more
Ellison
A great multi-character look at London in 2008. Lanchester is a master at delving into the stories of individual families living on a single street in the City. Recommended for readers who enjoyed "The Line of Beauty" by Alan Hollinghurst; "Crossing California" by Adam Langer; and the novels of Zadie Smith. Another case where I would have given 4.5 stars if it were possible on GoodReads....ahem!
David Cheshire
This is a bang up-to-date book written in an old fashioned way. Each chapter about half a dozen pages; each focuses on one of a cast of characters living in or linked to a single London street where houses have reached the million pound mark, even more with the extensive renovations done by the more prosperous. So we meet a lawyer, a footballer, a banker, a dying woman, her daughter, an asylum seeker, an immigrant Polish builder, a conceptual artist... As a "state of the nation" novel it sounds...more
Loine
Despite its wrist-breaking length, this is a highly enjoyable page-turner.
Lanchester takes the big theme of Capital, sets the scene in London in the build-up to the Global Financial Crisis, and zooms in on a single London residential street.
His focus brings an intimate, human scale to the bigger story being played out.
The terraced houses of Pepys Road were originally built to attract the lower middle class to an unfashionable area of London.But times have changed and thestreet has been gentrifie...more
Ben
In the late 1980s I went to an exhibition of the work of three of the great British architects of the twentieth century--Richard Rogers, Norman Foster and James Stirling. I think it was Rogers who was quoted as saying that cities exist for one reason only--as a place for people to meet. I've never forgotten that.

Capital is a book not so much about a city as about its people. Its epicentre is a south London street, Pepys Road--Everystreet, in all but name. Its dramatis personae are the street's r...more
Ian Mapp
I read Mr Phillips a long time ago... couldn't remember if I liked it or not. This book was getting good press and ideally suited for my tastes. London. State of the Nation. Comedy.

Lets give it a go.

It's a lengthy book in very short chapters and an incredibly simple premise. The inhabitants of a South London Street are receiving sinister, anonymous "we want what you have messages". Like that film where the owners are left videos of their house on the doorstep. I forget the name.

This allows us t...more
Jen
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jim
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...more
Jon
This is a very long book made up of very short chapters--107 chapters of about 5 pages each. By my count it tells the interwoven stories of 20 characters in 10 or 12 plot lines. Fortunately the author is a master of the thumbnail sketch. Unfortunately there isn't any over-all plot that could be recognized as a single action with a beginning, middle, and end. There isn't really a beginning: the stories just start. And there's only a mild sense of closure, with most of the stories continuing into...more
Patrick
As a keen reader of John Lanchester’s non-fiction writing on the financial crisis, I was expecting this to be a kind of fictional manifestation of all the carefully researched and crafted perspectives that went into those essays. I was also expecting something which is basically a realistic multi-faceted novel in the high Victorian mode -- and I got that much -- but I was surprised to find little trace of Lanchester the Economist in ‘Capital’. Though a prominent character is a wealthy banker cau...more
Nick
I really loved Capital. The writing is engaging and many of the characters are compelling. The novel also falls into a genre that I particularly like: interlocking stories about characters who are a bit randomly connected with each other. In this case, they all live or work on the same road in London between 2007 and 2009. It's a big 527 pages and I read the whole thing in under 48 hours (granted, I was on vacation, and for one of those days I was also on two planes, but still). I give it four s...more
Olga Loblova
I picked the book up at the airport because it was long enough to last throughout my travel and because it looked relatively fun. I was disappointed by the writing style on the second page. Sure, it's long - but at what price? Once he has an interesting thought, observation or a piece of character background, Lanchester repeats it two or three times within the two following pages. Yes, we know the character had some extremist tendencies but now no longer has them; yes, we understood that the ass...more
JBEG
This is an effortless read: the plotting is straight-up linear; the setting London in 2008 entirely familiar, the language and dialogue wonted. Reading it you feel the considerable amounts of pleasure that come from the well-rendered Contemporary Fiction factory (C.E.O. Jonathan Franzen.) There's even the de rigueur portrait of the female conspicuous consumer.

But there's something that runs counter to this stylistic banality: the novel has no plot. Sure, sure, there's the "who is sending the no...more
Andrew
Unusually the more I think about this book the less impressed I am. Three quarters of the way through I'd lost interest which I think is because just as you find an interesting story the author whips of to something else. I know it's meant to give a picture of modern day London and there are some interesting parts eg impact of grief, being arrested for terrorism, but the contrast was the other annoying caricatures such as the banker and his silly wife and the artists assistant who is poorly draw...more
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John Lanchester is the author four novels and three books of non-fiction. He was born in Germany and moved to Hong Kong. He studied in UK. He is a regular contributor to The New Yorker and was awarded the 2008 E.M. Forster Award. He lives in London.
More about John Lanchester...
The Debt to Pleasure I.O.U.: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay Fragrant Harbor Mr. Phillips Family Romance: A Love Story

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“The person doing the worrying experiences it as a form of love; the person being worried about experiences it as a form of control.” 11 likes
“But knowing that you had gone wrong, and knowing how you had gone wrong, were not the same thing as knowing how to put it right.” 5 likes
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