Book Review: Capital By John Lanchester

“We Want What You Have”.

That’s the theme of this intriguing literary novel as we follow individuals and families leaving on the same fictional street in London (Pepys Road). Aside from geographical proximity and a post code, they also have another thing in common – each receive a postcard with the above comment and nothing else.

Who is it from and what does each character have that the mysterious “they” want? And who wants it and for what purpose(s)? The story and plot builds slowly, carefully constructing characters and a setting to slowly reveal the answer to the question posted right from the very start. In true tradition of literary fiction, the story is really about the people. Not all of them are pleasant, not all of them are likeable or heroic, some of them are outright unpleasant. They are, basically, very human with all the flaws and virtues that entails.

I had no idea what to expect when I purchased this on Kindle Daily Deal. It’s one of the titles that comes up regularly and I had heard of it before then. It sounded interesting despite not being the sort of thing I might normally read. I am always happy to read outside my comfort zone though and glad I did with this one. With Christmas a hectic time, I needed something to dip in and out of, something slow and meandering and in that respect, it fulfilled the need.

This is a slow build up type of story, so if you are expecting lots of action and intrigue, you might be best looking elsewhere. What it will do, is introduce you to some intriguing people and allow them to intertwine with each other, come together through these mysterious postcards, and unravel the plot slowly. If that’s what you like, then you will find it easy to get through. This is primarily a story about ordinary people in an ordinary situation, living their mundane lives whose daily existence suddenly gets a whole lot more interesting.

The text is well written, surprisingly easy on the eye for modern literary fiction which is often accused of being unnecessarily and pretentiously dense. Not so here, it moves quickly and though you won’t find yourself flowing through the pages, nor will you find yourself dragged bagged by the scourges of modern literature – present tense and over-written narrative. There is not a lot of dialogue here as it focuses on thoughts, feelings and daily lives of its characters.

An interesting book but not one I think I will want to read over and over again though.


2 thoughts on “Book Review: Capital By John Lanchester

  1. Jools

    I read Capital a few years ago and am inclined to agree with you. I enjoy John Lanchester’s writing, but the stories are very low-key, more studies of humanity than plot-driven. He makes everyday characters come to life, in all their failings and shortcomings – and that’s one if the things I most enjoyed about this book. Thanks for sharing your review with us.

    1. I did feel my attention drift from around the half way point, as I couldn’t really tell where it was going. It seemed largely a collection of daily lives. Glad I stuck with it though.

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