There's an ever growing pile of books I want to read…
Big Review: Capital by John Lanchester
I think the hardest reviews to write are the ones where I’m not sure how I felt about the book. I finished Capital a little while ago and I still feel like I haven’t got my thoughts together enough to give an opinion on it.
Capital is a beast of a book. It has lots (and I mean lots!) of characters and subplots. It centres around Pepys Road, a residential street in London, and the people who live there. And the people related to those people. And sometimes people who just happen to be passing through. It’s set during the time of the financial crash when the people of Pepys Road begin to receive strange postcards. Someone wants what they have.
It’s a book that has received a lot of great reviews and was chosen as our March book club title in my store. The fine people at Faber and Faber sent us a free copy to read, which was very nice of them!
What I liked:
I really enjoyed the idea of this book, which was incredibly ambitious and broad in scope. It takes a good hard look at who Londoners are – not just the obvious inhabitants, but all of those people who might be sharing space in the Capital – and how their lives look to and affect each other.
I really loved several of the characters and plot lines in this story. Zbigniew, the polish builder, and Quentina, the traffic warden in immigration limbo, were my favourites.
John Lanchester has a really distinctive writing style and knows how to turn a phrase. Each of his characters had their own voice and there were some really nice observations too, like Quentina’s feelings about the English weather and nice, hot baths.
What I disliked:
I found the book very slow going and several times had to almost bribe myself to keep going, flicking ahead to see when a character I cared about would next appear and then telling myself that I only had to get though the next however many chapters before I got back to something good. (This happens to be the same way that I read the Game of Thrones books, for those of you who are interested in my reading style)
I felt like the author could have used a firmer hand in editing as there were some really unnecessary scenes that felt like they had been added to make some point or another and yet the main plot got a little lost. By the time we found out who was behind the mysterious postcards, I no longer cared and it had been telegraphed so blatantly that I wasn’t even a little surprised.
There were some characters that I could quite happily have excised from my copy of the book and not noticed the omission and others who were important to the overall arc but whom I despised reading about (the banker and his dreadful wife, for instance). Strangely, the characters I cared most about were the ones who were probably least necessary to the main plot and I could have done with more development of those.
There also wasn’t a firm ending to the book. It really just stopped. My reaction as I read the final words on the final page was to say ‘Oh’ and when one of my coworkers asked what was wrong, I said “My book is over.” There’s something very strange about a book with so many pages and plots and characters seeming to end too soon, but I definitely didn’t feel done when I reached the end.
I think this book is probably a little too ambitious for its own good. I could see what the author was trying to do, but it didn’t always work for me. I would have liked more of some things and less of other things, which is an uncomfortable problem. Maybe other people really liked the parts I hated and hated the parts I liked. I don’t know.
I think my biggest problem with the book was that something this long needs to be really, really great so that it doesn’t get bogged down in its own length and, while parts of this book WERE great, it wasn’t enough.