John Lanchester’s last book, Whoops! (2008), was a typically clear-sighted, witty guide to the credit crunch for the general reader. It grew, he has said, out of the research for this, his fourth novel. Billed as a ‘state-of-the-nation’ epic – Lanchester calls it his ‘big, fat London novel’ – Capital is certainly his most ambitious work so far.
Set in London during the years of the recent financial crash, the novel follows the lives of dozens of characters, all of whom have a connection to Pepys Road, a fictional street of terraced houses. Over the years it has become a prestigious address, populated almost exclusively by the wealthy. Recently, identical cards have been dropped through each of the houses’ letterboxes: ‘We Want What You Have’, they read. They are followed by more cards, then photos and DVDs showing footage of each house from various angles. Who is responsible, and do they have any purpose more sinister than mild harassment?
Four of the street’s houses provide the novel’s focal points. Number 51 is owned by Roger Yount, a strapping, privately educated, forty-year-old banker ‘to whom everything in life had come easily’; when we meet him, in December 2007, he is fretting about whether his bonus will reach £1 million. He