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The Fall of Serious Money: a review of John Lanchesters, “Capital”

Book cover of John Lanchester’s Capital. Bold yellow black ground with a cartoon drawing of a black and white city in the bottom right-hand corner.

This book started off like a small rock slowing rolling down a snowy hill that eventually turns into an avalanche. What you are left with at the end of the novel is silence and white powder.

John Lanchester’s novel borrows its title from the famous Karl Marx and his “Das Kapital”. Although, the book is not exclusively about a struggle between the proletariat and bourgeois. Rather, it is a more complex observation of how we, in a modern society value, treat, and exchange money and capital.

The novel, for me, felt very Dickens-esque. The story is set in London, and like in a Dickens novel, the city itself is its own awe-inspiring character. Lanchester follows a group of people who either live or are connected to the people who live on Pepsy Road. He slowly weaves the characters into each other, until at the end of the novel their lives become almost all intertwined.

I would suggest that if any one is interested in understanding more about Lanchester’s ideas that they should read his nonfiction novel “Whoops: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and Why No One Can Pay”. Lanchester looks at the rich who feel poor, the poor who know the value of money, and the middle class that are in between in name and nature.

For me, one of the most powerful lines in the book was delivered by the character Smitty, an anonymous artist who goes around London pulling off art stunts. He says:

The stuff which can’t be sold, that’s the stuff which makes everything else seem real. You can’t commodify this shit. Which is the whole point” (p.82).

The book has a strong themes of debt and profit, but not just in the financial understanding of these words. It is about familial ties and obligations that stretch from Mary helping her sick mother, and the Kamals coming together when Shahid is imprisoned. These obligations to family can also be spoken of as debts and profits. And this is the stuff you can’t sell. As Smitty would say, “You cant commodify this shit.”

The book is fairly long, closed to 600 pages, but it is well worth the read. There is always something happening and as each chapter swaps from family to family, you are spurred on to read one more chapter to find out what happens to each family.

If, like me, you have seen this book online or at your local book shop, but haven’t picked it up yet. Then what are you waiting for? As always, share the reading love.

4 thoughts on “The Fall of Serious Money: a review of John Lanchesters, “Capital”

  1. Noted. I’ll put it on the list. I’m loving books that are set in London at the moment… for the sense of familiarity (such a novelty when so few are set in Sydney or home!)

  2. Pingback: John Lanchester’s “The Wall”: climate change, building walls, and the world’s future | bound2books