Planet Books


The Capital, by Robert Menasse




The Capitol is a novel about the European Union against the background of its capitol, Brussels. The protagonists of this novel hold political power as either bureaucrats, lobbyist or experts. All of them come from different European countries, and are impacted by different historical events.

The path of the novel follows two main EU concerns: a trade deal with China over porcine exports; and a key public relations project to improve the image of the Commission - The Big Jubilee Project, to mark 50 years of the European Commission. The novel shows these concerns through the viewpoint of the various protagonists and how their personal lives and histories relate to them. Often, the strict rules of the EU cripple the vision of the Commission. This sets the novel up for its satirical underpinning: painting an image of the send-up of the European ideal, complete with a pig running rampant throughout the city.

With writing tones that one would consider light for such a heavy topic, it’s full of ironic metaphors and references. As Menasse digs into the key European Union’s internal conflicts, it is easy to see why this was the 2017 winner of the German Book Prize. The Capitol can be best categorized as a collection of stories that work together in the same time and background (Brussels) but they can, at times, lack the cohesive string that needs to tie them together as one story. The cohesion is difficult to achieve because the stories display a blend of genres and writing styles.

Often very picturesque in scene setting, Menasse tackles the global problems that most impact today’s Europe: financial crises; migration; unemployment; terrorism; climate change and trade. This novel highlights in many ways the arduous nature of globalisation and the challenges of being a nation in a larger machine. With well thought out plotting and strategic humor, Menasse has written an impressive European novel, capturing the good, the bad, and the frustrating.

Note: This novel is translated from the original German version by Jaime Bulloch.