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The Capital

Narrated by: Peter Noble
Length: 14 hrs and 8 mins
Categories: Fiction, Literary
3.5 out of 5 stars (11 ratings)

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Summary

Brussels. A panorama of tragic heroes, manipulative losers, involuntary accomplices. In his new novel, Robert Menasse spans a narrative arc between the times, the nations, the inevitable and the irony of fate, between petty bureaucracy and big emotions.

As the 50th anniversary of the European Commission approaches, the Directorate-General for Culture is tasked with planning and organising a fitting celebration. The project will serve the wider purpose of revamping the commission's image at a time of waning public support. When Fenia Xenopoulou's Austrian PA Martin Susman suggests putting Auschwitz at the centre of the jubilee, she is thrilled. But she has neglected to take the other EU institutions into account.

Inspector Brunfaut is in a tricky situation, too: his murder case has been suppressed at the highest level. Luckily, he's friends with the IT whiz at Brussels' Police HQ, who gains access to secret files in the public prosecutor's office. Matek, the Polish hit man, knows nothing of this. But he does know that he shot the wrong guy, and for Matek, who would rather have become a priest, this is serious. And what about the pig farmers who take to the streets of the city to protest about existing trade restrictions blocking the export of pigs' ears to China...?

The Capital is a sharp satire, a philosophical essay, a crime story, a comedy of manners and a wild pig chase, but at its heart it has the most powerful pro-European message: no-one should forget the circumstances that gave rise to the European project in the first place.

©2017 Suhrkamp Verlag Berlin (P)2019 Quercus Editions Limited

Critic reviews

"A deliciously vicious - and timely - satire about the E.U. and the meaning of Europe today." (Frederick Studemann, Financial Times)

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Well written intriguing and compelling book

Well written with numerous plots. Good insight into Europe. Excellent narrated. Never heard of this writer but he is excellent

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars

Narrator saves the book

The good old German tradition of writing novels without a proper plot is still alive. Even wins awards. Pale puzzle pieces of murder, of EU-chitchat and overchewed Holocaust-reminders glued together with inapropriate essay droplets. The whole whatever would be more terrible if Mr. Menasse hadn't have an excellent style. But still it was painful to listen to it.
After the first hour I thought the author must be a very old man. In fact he is only sixtish, but the prose smells of a ninety-year-old retired scolar trying to put forward his dated theories wrapped into a patchwork paper. It is like he forgets half way where he had begun and where he is planning to go.
Good luck, reader! Surely the extraordinary translation and the professional narration will help you a lot to get through this one. But you won't be richer at any rate. I listened the German and the English version side by side so my vocabulary gets the best of it. Otherwise... avoid it. Life is so short.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Entertaining but ultimately disappointing

This is a rollicking comedy-thriller with no pretensions to literary style or taste, and I'm rather surprised that it got such good reviews. It takes place in Brussels, and its main topic is the EU warts and all. Actually, warts is about all. The civil servants, think tanks etc are all about being a waste of time and money. The main strand in the plot is the idea to organise a celebration of 60 years since the Treaty of Rome (1957-2017) to improve the image of the Commission in the eyes of the people of Europe, and the culture section of the commission plump for a party at Auschwitz, which ultimately gets cancelled.

Culturally, it is interesting (for me) to read a book by a contemporary Austrian author. I couldn't believe how continuously it referred to WW2. Every character was either the son of resistance fighters, collaborators, or Nazi sympathisers, or, of course, one of the few camp survivors still alive. The only English character (I think there was only one) is a Boris-type ginger haired toff. A rather unflattering stereotype of the Brits.

The book is topical, obviously, but it is not informative. The only argument put forward in defence of the EU is 'Never Again.' Because of Auschwitz, we must have the EU to prevent any recurrence. This argument is put forward as an assertion. No effort to explain why there can never be another 'European civil war' once we have the EU as a forum to jaw-jaw.

But my main reason for rating this book quite poorly is the plot - or rather lack of plot. The book starts with an assassination in a hotel. We are told that the wrong person was assassinated, but not who they are or who the real target was. We are told that NATO has hushed the whole business up. An honest, very tall, Belgian police officer, son of two generations of resistance fighters, with terminal cancer, gets cued up to become a rogue investigator. Then he kind of gets bored with it and we never hear any more about the murder or NATO plot. There is a pig loose in Brussels who, in a very neat introductory chapter, is spotted by each of the key characters on that same one evening of the hotel murder. The pig motif runs through the novel (pig farmers lobbying the EU powers etc.) but at the end of the book we never learn where this pig came from - we are left hanging on a number of somewhat fantastical sub-plots. I really don't think authors should be allowed to do that.

So. Ultimately a bit silly, but entertaining and witty along the way.

Narration. Professional quality.

1 person found this helpful