Excerpt from The Capital by Robert Menasse, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Capital

A Novel

by Robert Menasse

The Capital by Robert Menasse X
The Capital by Robert Menasse
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2019, 416 pages
    Apr 2020, 432 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Dean Muscat
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The Capital

There's a pig on the loose! David de Vriend caught sight of it when he opened his sitting-room window for one last glance at the square before leaving this apartment for good. He wasn't a sentimental man. He had lived here for sixty years, looked out onto this square for sixty years and was now bringing it to an end. That's all. It was his favourite phrase; whenever he had something to say, report, attest, he would utter two or three sentences, followed by, "That's all." For David de Vriend this phrase was the only legitimate résumé of each moment or chapter in his life. The removal firm had been to fetch the few personal effects he was taking to his new home. Effects – a strange word, but it had no effect on him. Then the men came to clear out everything else, including those things that were screwed and nailed down, and the screws and nails too. They yanked it out, dismantled it and took it all away until the apartment was "as clean as a whistle", as people say. De Vriend had made himself a coffee while his cooker and moka pot were still there, watching the men, taking care not to get in their way, and he had held on to his empty cup for a long moment before dropping it into a rubbish bag. Then the men were gone and the apartment was empty. As clean as a whistle. One last glance out of the window. There was nothing there he did not know, and now he had to move out because another time had come – but there it was: down below was . . . a real pig! In Sainte-Catherine, the centre of Brussels. It must have come from rue de la Braie, it trotted along the construction hoarding in front of the building, de Vriend leaned out of the window and saw the pig turn right at the corner into rue du Vieux Marché aux Grains, avoiding a few passers-by and almost running under a taxi.

Kai-Uwe Frigge, thrown forwards by the emergency stop, fell back into the seat. He grimaced. Frigge was late, he was stressed. What was wrong now? He wasn't really late, but he liked to get to his appointments ten minutes early, especially when it was raining, so he could tidy himself up a bit in the loo – his soaked hair, fogged-up glasses – before the person he was meeting arrived —

A pig! Did you see that, Monsieur? the taxi driver exclaimed. It almost leaped into my car! He was bent right over his steering wheel: There! There! Can you see it?

Now Kai-Uwe Frigge did see it. He wiped the window with the back of his hand and caught the pig trotting off sideways, its wet body glistening a dirty pink in the glow of the streetlamps.

Here we are, Monsieur! I can't drive any closer. Fancy that! Almost went slap bang into a pig. What a road hog! But I saved his bacon, didn't I, eh?

In Menelas, Fenia Xenopoulou sat at the first table by the large window with a view of the square. It annoyed her that she had got there so early. To be waiting in the restaurant when he arrived didn't convey self-confidence. She was nervous. She had worried that the rain might make the traffic worse and had left herself

too much time. She was already on her second ouzo. The waiter buzzed around her like an irritating wasp. Fenia stared at the glass and told herself not to touch it. The waiter brought a carafe of fresh water. Then he came with a small dish of olives – and said,

A pig!

What? Looking up, she saw that the waiter was staring out at the square, mesmerised, and now she could see it too: the pig was making a dash for the restaurant, a ridiculous sight as its short legs flitted back and forth beneath its solid, round body. At first glance she thought it was a dog, one of those revolting creatures overfed by widows, but no – it really was a pig! It could have been straight out of a picture book. She saw the snout and the ears as lines, contours, that's how you would draw a pig for a child, but this one seemed to have sprung from a children's horror story. It wasn't a wild boar, it was a filthy, but unquestionably pink domestic pig, with something mad, something menacing about it. The rain continued to pour down the window and, in a blur, Fenia Xenopoulou saw the pig screech to a halt as it encountered some passers-by. The creature's legs were at full stretch, it skidded, threw itself to one side, jack-knifed, gained traction again and galloped back, now in the direction of Hotel Atlas. At that moment Ryszard Oświecki was leaving the hotel. He had already pulled the hood of his coat over his head on his way through the hotel lobby. Now he stepped out into the rain, briskly, but not in too much of a hurry; he didn't want to attract attention. The rain was a boon; in the circumstances both his hood and lively pace were perfectly normal and inconspicuous. Later, nobody would be able to say that they had seen a man running away – about this old, roughly this tall, and yes, of course they remembered the colour of the coat . . . 

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Reprinted from The Capital: A Novel by Robert Menasse, translated by Jamie Bulloch. Copyright © 2017 by Suhrkamp Verlag; Translation copyright © 2019 by Jamie Bulloch. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved."

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