Monday, January 02, 2012

The New Yorker: "Expectations" by John Lanchester

January 9, 2012: “Expectations” by John Lanchester

This appears to be an excerpt from Lanchester’s forthcoming novel called Capital, which the excerpt is all about. It’s an amusing read because the main characters are comically obnoxious, but that’s about all it has going for it. 

Roger is an investment banker in London, and he’s anticipating a year-end bonus of a million pounds. Maybe more! After all, the department he manages, foreign exchange, made a bundle for the bank during the year. And although other parts of the bank didn’t do so well, Roger has earned his bonus! And he needs that bonus, too, because he and his wife are a bit over extended on the posh house that they did an extensive remodel on and the country place (and the cars and servants, etc., etc.). And then there’s the wife, who, despite the cars and the servants, thinks Roger doesn’t understand how hard she works to raise their boys (there are nannies), and so she plots to send him a very strong message.

John is surprised by his bonus, but not terribly surprised by the message his wife sends . . .

It’s pretty hard to care about these people in the context of this excerpt, but maybe they’d be more likeable in the novel.

[Edited to add: When I wrote the above, the Q&A with John Lanchester had not yet appeared on the magazine's website. Among other things, the author confirms that the "story" is excerpted from the forthcoming novel.]


Marc Gerstein said...

Actually, I cared quite a bit for Roger, perhaps because I have a Wall Street background and also, on one occassion, found myself struggling with the need to figure out how to communicate a job-related disaster to my wife, whose reaction was more what I expected than what I wanted. I hate the idea of novel excerpts, but I have to confess that this novel is one I definitely want to read. From the excerpt, it looks to me like Lanchester was spot on with the key characters.

Marc Gerstein said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul said...

In contrast to Cliff, I find it a very strong excerpt although I agree that it doesn't work as a short story -- my reaction was "So they delivered the sofa, so what?"

It's the nuances in the reader's reaction [if the reader is me, anyway] that make this excerpt powerful. On the one hand, 30 grand is a lot of money so it seems greedy to complain. Yet, on the other hand, it's understandably disappointing if you're expecting millions. Arabella perhaps shouldn't be resentful of chores when she can employ so much help so readily. Yet on the other hand, it is understandable for her to resent her husband's domestic neglect. This internal debate (within me, anyway) about whether the character's feelings are rational or justified made this a rewarding reading experience for me.

Paul Epstein

Sybil said...

I agree with Cliff. This story did nothing for me. I couldn't tell what the story was aiming for--sympathy? ridicule? disgust? Felt like a cheap shot.

Clifford Garstang said...

I think, for me, the problem is that the characters seem like caricatures of a greedy couple, especially at a time when many people are suffering. Not that one must feel sympathy for these people, but that is, in any case, impossible. They are the 1% (to use the current American terminology) but in an over-the-top way that makes them comic. Perhaps that's the point.