Tuesday 23 January 2018

Review: Fiction: Capital by John Lanchester

Faber and Faber,€14.99
Available withfree P&P onwww.kennys.ie or bycalling 091 709350

The title of John Lanchester's novel works on two levels. It's set in London, capital of the UK and, appropriately, one of the capitals of world finance; and the novel is concerned with capital, in the literal sense of money and the metaphorical sense of power or influence.

The story takes place on Pepys Road, an ordinary but fairly nice street with a broad variety of occupants. In the first chapter, set in late 2007, a card is pushed through everyone's letterbox, which reads: "We want what you have." It's an intriguing opening, though one that gives a slightly misleading picture of the book as a whole.

Though this plotline is followed through, that mysterious intro could make the reader think they were about to embark on some sort of psychological thriller, which is not the case.

For me, Capital is more of a melodrama and that's meant in the best sense: a grand, sweeping narrative, following several different lives, tracing the connections between them and putting their stories into a wider perspective.

As the title might also suggest, this book deals with the infamous financial crash of 2007-08 and how it affected individuals and communities.

But don't be put off by that: Capital isn't all worthy and boring. It's a well-told, generally engaging tale (or series of them).

We meet a cocky City trader; a young African footballer; a Polish tradesman; a traffic warden with a sort-of "thing" for expensive cars; a Muslim shopkeeper and others.

While the book is inordinately long -- very few novels, outside of Proust or Joyce, really need to be the bones of 600 pages -- the breezy writing and short chapters keep it moving along nicely.

And Lanchester, a journalist as well as author, knows his stuff on money markets, currency crises and all that other junk we're always hearing about in the news.

So the macro story is woven more or less seamlessly into the many micro-stories. I enjoyed Capital, though it wouldn't really be my kind of novel; the prose lacked a certain brilliance, for want of a better word.

There are none of those moments of literary genius that make you gasp, which is rather surprising for a writer who has won the Whitbread and EM Forster awards and been long-listed for the Booker.

But that may have been a stylistic choice, to keep it plain and straightforward; and perhaps a richer writing style might have been too much, over the course of a novel this long. Besides, these are petty quibbles: the story is very interesting and the telling is more than good enough.

Darragh McManus' crime novel Even Flow is published this summer by Roundfire Books.

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