John Lanchester - Capital
A well-observed ensemble story that lacks momentum
Pepys Road is the setting for a slowly unfurling whodunit, where residents of the posh London suburb must work out who is harassing them. It begins with an innocuous postcard, stating, ‘We Want What You Have’. Things get progressively more twisted as footage of the neighbours arrives via unmarked DVDs.
The author’s CV – football reporter, restaurant critic, financial commentator, dad, and husband amongst other things – clearly supplies plenty of inspiration to his storytelling. We meet bitter yummy mummy, Arabella, locked into a game of ‘competitive tiredness’ with her City banker husband. Then there’s Shoreditch performance artist Smitty, enjoying press attention after his controversial recent work, ‘Bucket of Shit’. A traffic warden, Muslim shopkeeper and Polish builder add to the ensemble cast.
But as well observed as these city dwellers are, and Lanchester’s skills as an astute and sensitive nosey parker are in no question, the plot lacks momentum, and the near-600 pages feel like a string of poorly sewn together short stories. Like the neighbours sharing a street, jostling for space in the book isn’t enough to make the characters feel connected.