The Novel Cure: Literary prescriptions for getting a parking ticket


Click to follow

Ailment: Getting a parking ticket

Cure: Capital by John Lanchester

That moment of outrage as you return to your car to find a ticket on your windscreen is almost unparalleled in modern urban life. Unless you've left your car on a double yellow, it's obviously not your fault – and even if it was, what else are you supposed to do when you nip into the dry cleaner's?

Many of us experience a flood of Hate or Murderous Thoughts towards the traffic warden responsible – and we refer you to our columns of recent weeks for help with these ailments. But for a more targeted cure, read Capital, John Lanchester's self-described "big fat London novel".

Set in and around Pepys Road in SE14, a part of town in which house values have rocketed in recent years, Capital examines the effects of wealth on Lanchester's cast of characters: a banker replete with country house, shopaholic wife and nanny; a Polish builder; an old lady with a brain tumour; the family who run the corner shop; and Quentina, a political refugee from Zimbabwe with an MA in post-conflict resolution who now works as a traffic warden.

When Quentina witnesses the furious reaction engendered in her spoilt neighbours by her parking tickets, she responds with an even greater fury of her own. "Get down on your knees!" she yearns to shout. "Be grateful! A billion people living on a dollar a day, as many who can't find clean drinking water... you live in a country where there is a promise to feed, clothe, shelter and doctor you... where the state won't come and beat or imprison you or conscript you... where the government does not lie to you about Aids... where the only bad thing is the climate, and you find it in yourself to complain about parking?"

And so on – for her internal rant goes on for a page. We suggest you download the audio version and play it whenever you see that tell-tale yellow square on your windscreen: a symbol of prosperity, put there to remind you you're one of the lucky ones.