Capital – John Lanchester
I just read this book, so thought I would do a review. Hope you find it useful!
The success of this book is that John Lanchester describes a London that I can recognise, filled with characters I can recognise and see myself in, against a background of recent events. which ensures the believability of the story.
It starts if with the normality if a tesco’s delivery, something which the vast majority if us have experienced.
The Muslim characters in the book, are not some sort of extreme charictures, or there for effect, they seem to be part of the scenery and community within London and are portrayed truthfully as such. Ahmad is turns on the radio and listening to familiar nasheeds, in a way you could envisage yourself doing. I could imagine myself being like Usman and taking issue with my families shop selling lads mags and alcohol, and when I read about shahid’s life I had to laugh out loud, as so much of it resembled mine! As a teenager in the 90′s I remember teaching myself html, I spent some time training as a karate teacher, i studied at Birbeck (amongst 3 other unis) but the travel bothered me. It was almost my life!
Also Rohinka’s growth as a mother and relationship with Ahmed was shown sensitively and endearingly, but so subtley that if you blinked you would miss it.
Also there was Arabelle, the rich house wife, although I do not have a cleaner and a nanny, I definitely understand what she is saying about competitive tiredness! I think a lot of women would immediately identify with that!
The Polish builders, sharing a room, I have seen that in my time, and ended up related to Poles, they also felt familiar. The African traffic wardens are something you cannot miss in London.
This was the London I know and love!
Because of the familiarity of these characters, the ones that I wasn’t so familiar with, such as the Banksy character, and the city boys, became automatically believable.
And it is the characters that made this story. The plot was not as irresistible as the chacters. They drew you in and made you want to know more. Without the plot of the mystery of the postcards, the story would still have been great!
But what is this book about? Well it touches on terrorism and immigration, but it is not about politics. Those things are mentioned as normal occurances which happen in London, not as the extraordinary. Not as the focus of the book.
the capital of the book’s title refers not only to London’s status, but also to the finance industry that enriches it and especially the asset value of the properties along that suburban street, values of which the occupiers and owners of the houses have become fully aware of.
This book is really about value and worth. “we want what you have”. What do we value in this society and is it deserving of our worship.
We value football players, and idolise them, but one false move, and they are written of forever and we move on to the next big thing.
Guirella artistes, selling works worth tens of thousands, which are meaningless,
Above all we worship money.
But should we do that?
This book shows how all these things which our society puts on a pedestal are temporary, and not worthy of our worship.
It also highlights the contradictions within our society. We praise entrepreneurship, “the big society” those who help others, freedom. However the zimbabwean women ends up in a detention centre, although she fulfilled these ideals.
Shahid ends up arrested for terrorism, we value freedom yet it is so easily taken away.
We value family, but have no issues in locking up families in detention centres, bursting in to family homes at 4.30 in the morning, letting nannies raise our kids while we go shopping. In fact the last one is something to aspire to.
I think other reviews on this book have been harsh. They have missed the point. They missed the part of the whole book about being concerned with interpretations of value and worship.
Capital also depicts the constant change of post modern society. At the end of the book, most of the houses have new owners. In one year so many things have changed. There is no certainty. There is constant movement, constant confusion.
I really enjoyed this book. It was an easy and light read, which you could also unravel the layers like an onion!