Goodreads ratings
3.71 / 5

"Capital" Summary

By John Lanchester

fiction | 528 pages | Published in NaN

Celebrated novelist John Lanchester (author of The Debt to Pleasure) returns with an epic novel that captures the obsessions of our time. It’s 2008 and things are falling apart: Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers are going under, and the residents of Pepys Road, London—a banker and his shopaholic wife, an old woman dying of a brain tumor and her graffiti-artist grandson, Pakistani shop owners and a shadowy refugee who works as the meter maid, the young soccer star from Senegal and his minder—are receiving anonymous postcards reading “We Want What You Have.” Who is behind it? What do they want? Epic in scope yet intimate, capturing the ordinary dramas of very different lives, this is a novel of love and suspicion, of financial collapse and terrorist threat, of property values going up and fortunes going down, and of a city at a moment of extraordinary tension.


Estimated read time: 5 min read

One Sentence Summary

A gripping exploration of London's financial district and the interconnected lives of its inhabitants.


In John Lanchester's "Capital," readers are taken on a captivating journey through the streets of London, where a diverse cast of characters becomes interconnected amidst the backdrop of the 2008 financial crisis. With its sharp observations and intricate storytelling, this novel delves into the lives of ordinary individuals and the impact of global economic forces on their existence. Through its vivid portrayal of a city in flux, "Capital" explores themes of wealth, class, and the pursuit of happiness in a rapidly changing world.

Brief Synopsis

"Capital" is set in London, primarily in the fictional Pepys Road, a quiet residential street that becomes a microcosm of the city's diversity. The story takes place in 2007, leading up to the financial crisis, and follows the lives of various residents of Pepys Road as they navigate the challenges and upheavals of their personal and professional lives.

The novel opens with the arrival of anonymous postcards sent to each household on Pepys Road, bearing only the message: "We Want What You Have." This mysterious campaign sets the stage for a series of events that will test the characters' resilience and force them to confront their own desires and ambitions.

Main Characters

Roger YountA banker living on Pepys Road who is facing increasing pressure at work and struggles with his deteriorating health.
QuentinaAn immigrant from Zimbabwe who works as a meter maid and aspires to a better life.
Ahmed KamalA young Muslim man and his family who run a corner shop on Pepys Road.
Petunia HoweAn elderly resident of Pepys Road who is determined to hold onto her family home despite financial difficulties.
Freddy KamoA talented Senegalese footballer scouted by a prestigious club, providing a glimpse into the world of professional sports.

Summary of Story Points

Chapters 1-5: Introducing the Residents of Pepys Road

  • The residents of Pepys Road receive anonymous postcards with the message "We Want What You Have."
  • Roger Yount, a banker, faces pressure at work and health issues.
  • Quentina, an immigrant from Zimbabwe, works as a meter maid and dreams of a better life.
  • Ahmed Kamal and his family run a corner shop on Pepys Road, facing challenges due to changing demographics.
  • Petunia Howe, an elderly resident, struggles to hold onto her family home amidst financial difficulties.
  • Freddy Kamo, a talented young footballer, is scouted by a prestigious club.

Chapters 6-10: The Impact of the Financial Crisis

  • Roger Yount's health deteriorates further, and he suffers a heart attack.
  • Quentina faces racism and discrimination in her pursuit of a better life.
  • Ahmed Kamal's shop is vandalized, and his daughter is attacked.
  • Petunia Howe considers selling her home but ultimately decides to stay.
  • Freddy Kamo's dreams of a professional football career are threatened by the financial crisis.

Chapters 11-15: Uncovering Secrets and Resilience

  • Roger Yount's secret affair is revealed, causing strain in his marriage.
  • Quentina's determination leads to a job opportunity in the financial sector.
  • Ahmed Kamal's son becomes involved in a radical Islamist group.
  • Petunia Howe discovers a hidden treasure in her home, providing financial relief.
  • Freddy Kamo faces personal challenges but ultimately signs with a professional football club.

Chapters 16-20: Confronting the Past and Moving Forward

  • Roger Yount's health continues to decline, and he passes away.
  • Quentina confronts her traumatic past and finds closure.
  • Ahmed Kamal's son's involvement in radicalism comes to a tragic end.
  • Petunia Howe decides to use her newfound wealth to help others.
  • Freddy Kamo begins his professional football career and faces the pressures of fame.

Main Events

  • The arrival of anonymous postcards on Pepys Road.
  • Roger Yount's health struggles and affair.
  • Quentina's journey from a meter maid to a job opportunity in the financial sector.
  • Ahmed Kamal's shop being vandalized and his son's involvement in radicalism.
  • Petunia Howe's financial difficulties and the discovery of hidden treasure.
  • Freddy Kamo's pursuit of a professional football career and the challenges he faces.

Themes and Insights

  • The impact of global economic forces on individual lives.
  • The pursuit of wealth and its consequences.
  • The interconnectedness of diverse communities.
  • The resilience and strength of individuals in the face of adversity.
  • The exploration of class, race, and identity in a rapidly changing society.

Reader's Takeaway

Through its engaging storytelling and richly developed characters, "Capital" offers a thought-provoking exploration of the human experience in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. The novel prompts readers to reflect on their own desires, priorities, and the impact of external forces on their lives. It serves as a reminder that while money and success may seem alluring, true happiness and fulfillment often lie in the connections we form and the choices we make.


"Capital" by John Lanchester is a captivating novel that skillfully weaves together the lives of its diverse cast of characters against the backdrop of the 2008 financial crisis. With its sharp social commentary and engrossing storytelling, this book offers readers an insightful exploration of wealth, class, and the pursuit of happiness in a rapidly changing world. Lanchester's ability to delve into the lives of ordinary individuals and shed light on the impact of global economic forces makes "Capital" a truly compelling read.

Capital FAQ

  1. What is the book 'Capital' about?

    Capital is a novel by John Lanchester that explores the lives of various characters living on Pepys Road in London, as they navigate through the financial crisis and its impact on their personal and professional lives.

  2. Who is the author of 'Capital'?

    The author of 'Capital' is John Lanchester.

  3. When was 'Capital' published?

    'Capital' was published in 2012.

  4. Is 'Capital' a non-fiction or fiction book?

    'Capital' is a fiction book.

  5. What are some themes explored in 'Capital'?

    Some themes explored in 'Capital' include wealth inequality, the impact of the financial crisis, social class, and the interconnected lives of the characters.

  6. Are there any notable awards or recognitions for 'Capital'?

    Yes, 'Capital' was longlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize.

  7. Is 'Capital' suitable for young readers?

    'Capital' is not specifically written for young readers and may contain mature themes and content. It is recommended for adult readers.

  8. How long is the book 'Capital'?

    The length of 'Capital' varies depending on the edition, but it is approximately 600 pages.

  9. Is 'Capital' part of a series?

    'Capital' is a standalone novel and is not part of a series.

  10. Can I find an audiobook version of 'Capital'?

    Yes, an audiobook version of 'Capital' is available for those who prefer to listen to the book.