Friday, 6 April 2012

Book of the Week - John Lanchester, Capital

I have been on holiday recently, so have some catching up to do with recently released fiction. Capital is John Lanchester’s fourth novel and has been out for a while – however, it is quickly into its fifth or sixth printing (unusual for literary fiction nowadays) and addresses some important themes in the midst of the current economic crisis. Reviews have been positive (with a few less enthusiastic) - some have referred to Capital as a “state of the nation” novel. The author is well established and respected in the literary world, though not prolific, and this is the sort of book which could do well in this year’s Booker Prize. Time to pick up a first edition then – signed copies of the Faber hardcover are still available at around £20-25.

Lanchester was born in Hamburg in 1962 and was brought up in the far east. He has worked as a football reporter, obituary writer, book editor, restaurant critic, and deputy editor of the London Review of Books, where his pieces still appear. He is a regular contributor to the New Yorker. He has written three novels, The Debt to Pleasure, Mr Phillips and Fragrant Harbour, and two works of non-fiction: Family Romance, a memoir; and Whoops!: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay, a book about the global financial crisis. The Debt to Pleasure (1996) is the fictional autobiography of sinister gourmet Tarquin Winot. It won the Whitbread First Novel Award, the Betty Trask Prize, the Hawthornden Prize, and an American prize, the Julia Child Award for 'literary food writing'. Mr Phillips (2000) relates the inner thoughts and fantasies of a redundant 50-year-old accountant, while Fragrant Harbour (2002) is set in Hong Kong and was shortlisted for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. His more recent non-fiction includes Family Romance (2007), a memoir recountingthe story of his mother, a nun who walked out of the convent, changed her name, falsified her age, and concealed these facts from her husband and son until her death. Whoops!: why everyone owes everyone and no one can pay (2008), contains an analysis of contemporary finance and the current economic crisis, themes which feature strongly in Capital as well.

“Pepys Road: an ordinary street in the Capital. Each house has seen its fair share of first steps and last breaths, and plenty of laughter in between. Today, through each letterbox along this ordinary street drops a card with a simple message: We Want What You Have. At forty, Roger Yount is blessed with an expensively groomed wife, two small sons and a powerful job in the City. An annual bonus of a million might seem excessive, but with second homes and nannies to maintain, he's not sure he can get by without it. Elsewhere in the Capital, Zbigniew has come from Warsaw to indulge the super-rich in their interior decoration whims. Freddy Kano, teenage football sensation, has left a two-room shack in Senegal to follow his dream. Traffic warden Quentina has exchanged the violence of the police in Zimbabwe for the violence of the enraged middle classes. For them all, this city offers the chance of a different kind of life. Capital is a post-crash state-of-the nation novel told with compassion and humour, featuring a cast of characters that you will be sad to leave behind.”

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