State of the nation?

17 May

The success of Justin Cartwright’s ‘Other People’s Money’ and John Lanchester’s ‘Capital’ here at Nomad Books has got us thinking; why has the financial crisis spawned so many novels about the UK?

Cartwright’s book is a kind of satirical look at the super-rich private banks, their lives and families. ‘Capital’ on the other hand takes a wider look at those effected by the 2008 crisis across London. The strength of both books are their characters, each one chimes with people we all meet and come across in London. You may not bang into a billionaire owner of a private bank that often but Cartwright paints a picture of an exhausted executive wanting to escape the pressures of professional life. In these novels you will find Polish builders, young bloggers and super-buff personal trainers, plus references to Strictly Come Dancing, film stars and fashionable London restaurants.

The question is do we want to read fiction which deals with daily life in such a detailed and exact way. Do we want the characters to trace our footsteps, take our bus journeys or be mocked or derided, by the author, for our situation, habits or beliefs? To put it in harsh terms, is this mode of storytelling playing to a reader’s vanity or their ignorance?

Perhaps, we can see this type of novel as holding up a mirror to our society, allowing us the see the comedy and the sadness that we are too close to notice? Other People’s Money definitely shows the funny side to the bank queue and the poignancy of wearing your first Marks and Spencer’s suit. However, both these books, beyond being so specific to our times, take the financial crisis as their theme. They look at the crisis through those it effects, through the lens of wealth and poverty and through our contingent relationships to one another through money; if one domino falls so many more are affected. Beyond these financial ties, the books both demonstrate the power of human relationships and the desire to connect beyond professional life.

I think perhaps one of the most interesting things to observe in these ‘state of the nation’ books is that however far they aim to reach they will only represent one strata, yet no matter how specific the detail they reflect some truth personal or societal.

What books really made you think about contemporary life? Do you think any work of fiction can be truly contemporary?

Other Peoples Money by Justin Cartwright paperback £7.99

Capital by John Lanchester hardback £17.99

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*At our recent Justin Cartwright event, Cartwright spoke about the trend among writers reacently to attempt ‘State of the Nation’ books. According to him, a concept which while rife in the US is rarely attempted by British authors, what do you think?

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