Friday, 12 April 2013

Reading Capital

No, not the doorstep by Karl Marx - rather, the doorstep by John Lanchester. The double entendre is obviously intended, although anyone expecting a forensic dissection of the labour theory of value or a lurid explanation of "commodity fetishism and the secrets thereof" will be disappointed.  However, as I read Lanchester's Capital I found myself thinking less  of Das Kapital and more of Middlemarch. For the fictitious Midland town, read Pepys Rd, a street in London transformed by rising house prices. If Eliot's book is a study in provincial life, then this is a study in metropolitan life. And where Eliot focuses on the otherworldly Dorothea Brooke, Lanchester focuses instead on her trivial, materialistic sister Celia, in the form of  the jaw-droppingly monsterous Arabella Yount - a dominatrix among commodity fetishists if ever there was one.

Among other things, this is a book about powerless people navigating the world without a map - or with old, confusingly out-of-date maps. The remnants of the past -its assumptions, its belief-systems- spin like plastic fragments in some Pacific Ocean gyre. Artists, shopkeepers, housewives, footballers, nannies, builders, bankers, even the traffic warden, are all in there too, all trying to keep their heads above water, all dreaming of making it to the beach. The book is a virtuoso study in research: Lanchester paints a detailed picture of the everyday life of people from wildly different backgrounds, all of them convincing, I thought. Some you like and some you don't but you care what happens to them all and you keep turning the pages -all 577 of them- to find out.


The Weaver of Grass said...

I have never heard of this book but judging by the number of pages you need to wade through, don't think I will be reading it any time soon.

tony said...

Another Thing I Am Ignorant Of! Sounds very relevant to modern Times..