A capital read…

John Lanchester is coming to the Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival, which is just about to start. One of our booksellers, KG, has been reading him…

Delving into the ordinary, everyday lives of 20 characters, Capital reveals the intimate thoughts of a vast group of people. Honing in on perspectives, actions, and reactions of these characters leads you on a rollercoaster ride; one moment you are cosy-ing up to the man who has seemingly earned his worth and spends 12 hour days in the office, supporting him in his morning routine of shampooing and wearing his favourite underwear to ensure he is best prepared for the tough meeting that day. Ten pages later you are agreeing with the poorly treated, over-qualified and under-appreciated assistant who is being neglected and ignored by the very same man. An emigrated parking warden made out to be the most unpopular person in the street has her own story of standing up for humanitarian rights in her country, being beaten, deported, and made state-less. Working as a parking warden and meeting her quota is the only small achievement she is allowed in a day (albeit illegal) after having her rights stripped from her as a human being. Capital exposes us to the minds of differently situated individuals and if it needs to have a moral to the story, it’s that no one is the bad guy. It is not a book about adventure; by following the menial and mundane activities of city-living, it highlights the fact that the smallest things which may once have been deemed ‘nothing to write home about’, actually make up life as it is. To explore these comings and goings from different perspectives builds up a sense of community but also isolation. The characters in the book would struggle to expand their minds to be able to look at the street through another person’s lens, but that is exactly what Lanchester wants us to do: consider everyone. By writing through women, men, the young, old, local, expat, unlucky, gifted, spoilt, and attentive, Lanchester re-iterates what we already know: everyone has a story and we shouldn’t be quick to label. Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes, and all that. This isn’t a new idea that Lanchester is bringing to the floor, he is simply illustrating it in a way that will help us understand it better. For the sake of reminding yourself that there’s more to people than meets the eye, I’d jump the book to the top of your reading list.