“Peter McAllister sat on the other side of the same desk, with the same degree of non-view our of the semi-window. He was stretching his arms as far back and up as they would go, and his pinstripe suit was riding up. He was looking a bit porky, Alison felt; as if whatever horse-riding-type exercise he was taking at the weekend was not keeping at bay the effect of his eating and drinking during the week. Her first impression of him, two years earlier, was that he looked like a privileged man passing into early middle age with his early assumptions and prejudices entirely intact. That impression was accurate: that was exactly who Peter McAllister was.”
This goes on for another half a page, casting back to McAllister’s old school roots and forward to his probable career choices; it’s a single paragraph devoted to a footnote character that fleshes him out exhaustively, telling you what sort of a person he is in order to explain his actions (or, rather, his sole action, which is to rule against one of the less-minor characters, in accord with the prejudices Lanchester has just laid out). As far as character creation goes, it’s mechanistic and deterministic, displaying a strictly stimulus-response notion of human nature; as a piece of rhetoric or style, though, it belongs less to the novel (with apologies, I suppose, to Dickens, who did this sort of thing all the time: the modern novel, then) than to long-form journalism.
And that makes sense, to a certain extent, partially because Lanchester has already written that particular long-form journalistic piece, a book called IOU, which came out here in 2009, amidst the wash of nonfiction books explaining the credit crisis that precipitated the recession. By all accounts, the book was excellent, clear and witty and able to carry forward an argument about banking and finance that went beyond the greed-and-hubris explanatory model. According to interviews supporting that book, though, it was a side project, a way to utilize all the research he had done for a novel about the crash; Capital is that novel.
June 17, 2012, 10:49am Comments