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27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Evocative - feels like non-fiction
"The Last Hundred Days" in question here are the final days of Ceau'escu's Romania in late 1989. Narrated by an unnamed young British expat who has a job offer from the English department of Bucharest University, despite never having interviewed for the job, we get an insight into the life under communist rule as Eastern bloc countries all around start to open up after...
Published on 2 Sep 2011 by Ripple

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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Epoch of Light, Dignity and Joy!
This longish novel relates the final eight months of the hard-line regime of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. The book is highly readable, often fascinating, but has significant flaws.
Much like 'Snowdrops', also thumbs-upped by Booker Prize judges in 2011, we have the often-seen set-up of a rootless, naive man coming to a foreign country and quickly finding...
Published 15 months ago by annwiddecombe


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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Epoch of Light, Dignity and Joy!, 24 Jun 2013
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This review is from: The Last Hundred Days (Paperback)
This longish novel relates the final eight months of the hard-line regime of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. The book is highly readable, often fascinating, but has significant flaws.
Much like 'Snowdrops', also thumbs-upped by Booker Prize judges in 2011, we have the often-seen set-up of a rootless, naive man coming to a foreign country and quickly finding himself involved in confusing and potentially dangerous events ('The Last King of Scotland' is another example, plus a number of Graham Greene's novels, of course). In McGuinness's version, the anonymous narrator, a recent graduate with no attachments at home, finds himself being offered a job - despite not turning up for the interview - at Bucharest University. There he meets the charismatic, vaguely Ballardian figure of Leo O'Heix, fellow academic, psychogeographic flaneur and master black-marketeer. With extraordinary speed, the narrator is dragged not only into Leo's shady networks, but into the political epicentre of the burgeoning revolution. He meets a politician's daughter, the predictably glamorous but shadowy Celia, and - just as predictably - begins a relationship with her (quite what his attraction is for her, we aren't told). From there, he crosses paths with various sinister, shadowy characters, both old and young, as around him, dissent starts to build and the regime's triumphalist slogans begin to look increasingly empty.
The workings of totalitarian states are always fascinating and McGuinness does a good, detailed job of putting across the paranoia and madness; nothing new perhaps, but convincing and with trenchant commentary. He evokes an increasingly ruined Bucharest with skill. The novel's main problems are centred on the character of the narrator; his story is implausible, and so are his responses. He seems to be both fearless and detached, questioning politicians, backchatting secret police, involving himself recklessly with agitators - yet we never find out what his motivations are, and even when Leo nearly gets killed, he seems impervious. McGuinness sets him up as a 'blank', yet he is obviously driven by something - we just don't know what. He also never seems to do any work. What's more, the novel is sub-standard technically. Occasionally the narration lurches horribly into an omnipotent viewpoint and, particularly at the end, McGuinness makes errors with the timeline. And how are the characters conversing? Are we to believe everyone in Bucharest in 1989 spoke remarkably good English or has the narrator learnt Romanian with unheard-of speed? The last seventy-five pages detailing the bloody final days could certainly be cut by fifty, as they do little more than relate a story we already know, and the novel's post-revolution summation - 'new brothel, same old whores,' - is hardly revelatory.
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57 of 65 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Timisoara! Timisoara! Timisoara!, 13 Aug 2011
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MisterHobgoblin (Melbourne) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Last Hundred Days (Paperback)
The Last Hundred Days is a straightforward, first person narrative told by an English academic who has found himself teaching at a Bucharest university in late 1989. He arrives into a totalitarian communist state led by the sinister Nicolae Ceau'sescu supported by the army, militia, police and securitate. But as the reader knows, in 100 days time, the regime will fall and the Ceau'sescus will be shot. This makes for an odd novel - the end is known and the puzzle is how such a turnaround will happen so quickly.

Much of the madness of 1980s Romania is well known. The destruction of villages; the orphanages; the construction of the Palace of the People; and the systematic starvation of the population in order to repay foreign debt. These reference points are all there. But there is more: an insight into the nature of corruption; how the nomenklature lived; the crazy relations between the Conduca'tor and his various African and East European counterparts, perpetually receiving each other on official visits in an effort to create credibility from thin air. As the unrest grows, the bould Nicolae jets off to Iran to press the flesh. And when you're trying to impress with your Iranian connections, you know you're in trouble.

And in the middle of all this, there's the story. Our unnamed narrator flies into Bucharest to take on a job he was given despite not attending the interview. He arrives to find he has filled the shoes (and the job, and the flat) of the missing Belanger. His position, overseen by sleazy Leo O'Heix, seems to involve more than merely teaching students. Our narrator is inducted into a world of intrigue which leads to intimate connections with all levels of the Romanian communist party. A complicated and tangled plot unfolds, which presages the coming revolution in various ways.

The invocation of Bucharest is convincing and arresting. The sleaze is convincing too. The party games and machinations ring true. But something doesn't quite click. The novel is too long and feels repetitive. Once we've had a motorcade we don't really need another one. Once we've got the idea that districts of Bucharest are being demolished, we don't need to go there again. And for all the intrigue of the plot, it generates a feeling of "so what". The novel does the revolution well; it fills in background and brings it to life. Crucially, it shows the revolution as having had a before when all we have seen from the news reports was the after. But the story feels like a bit of a bolt on to justify the historical aspect.

The Last Hundred Days isn't a bad book - and some of the turns of phrase are really quite brilliant; some of the observations are really very funny. It just doesn't quite cohere enough to be a great book.
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27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Evocative - feels like non-fiction, 2 Sep 2011
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Ripple (uk) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Last Hundred Days (Paperback)
"The Last Hundred Days" in question here are the final days of Ceau'escu's Romania in late 1989. Narrated by an unnamed young British expat who has a job offer from the English department of Bucharest University, despite never having interviewed for the job, we get an insight into the life under communist rule as Eastern bloc countries all around start to open up after the fall of the Berlin Wall. We are told that McGuinness lived in Romania in the years leading up to the revolution, and this is no surprise as there is an authenticity here that could only have come from some level of inside knowledge.

It's a fascinating insight, and one which I enjoyed very much, although there are a few qualms that are worth pointing out. For a start McGuinness takes quite a while for the story to get going. This is his first novel and he is apparently also a poet and this comes as no surprise in the first 50 or so pages as he never misses an opportunity to provide a metaphor or simile in his descriptions that can lead to the book seeming a little "over-written".

However the biggest challenge is that the book has a fairly tenuous relationship to anything that would conventionally be called a plot. The narrator's experience has moments that might be considered to be a plot-line as he finds out what is happening to friends he meets, but the driver of the action in the historic events. This is a problem as we all know what happened and in fact while there were signs of some changes during the last one hundred days, when the end came it was all rather sudden. Neither does our narrator seem to have much to do in his job - he meets some students outside the university and frankly it is difficult to see how he knew who they were. You might also argue that a junior, expat teacher wouldn't have access to the relatively senior members of the regime that this book suggests.

Yet for all this, it doesn't read like a work of fiction. It reads more like a cocktail of one part Le Carré, one part one of those accounts by British journalists of the last days of a regime and, what makes this so readable, one part Bill Bryson at his light hearted best at pointing out the ridiculousness of situations. The Bryson element is provided by the narrator's expat friend, Leo, another teacher in the department who has all the best lines. Leo is involved in the black market and has enough detachment to comment on things but enough inside information to know what's going on.

McGuinness portrays very well the danger and corruption of the regime and what it is like when everyone is watching everyone else and no one can be trusted. We see a mixture of dissidents, party apparatchiks, spies and ordinary people struggling to protect their own interests under Ceau'escu's crazy world. Of course, like any good Eastern bloc story, we also get the "man from the ministry", here in the form of a fairly ineffective British diplomat who is also struggling to make sense of what is happening.

It's a difficult book to categorise. It is fiction, but it feels like non-fiction. It has spy elements, but it isn't a conventional spy plot of good versus evil. It is often satirical and funny, but the situation is far from that. After a slow beginning, I was hooked.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping and fascinating - recommended, 18 Aug 2014
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This review is from: The Last Hundred Days (Kindle Edition)
I wasn't expecting to enjoy this as much as I did. I say 'enjoy' - it isn't always a fun read. It's gripping, though, and feels almost more like a memoir or a documentary. You feel like you're there with them at times. There are some hilarious parts, some tragic parts, some politics and some relationships and I learned an awful lot. It stayed with me afterward - I still sometimes think about parts of the book and I read it months ago.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 3 July 2014
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Wonderful
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3.0 out of 5 stars Good historical review., 24 Jun 2014
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This book catches the feel of the end of communism in Romania very effectively. The characters were difficult to become fully involved with. A very good reminder of what life was like behind the Iron Curtain.
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5.0 out of 5 stars a class act, 9 Jun 2014
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written by someone who is on top form. any weaknesses in the plot are balanced by some fantastic prose.
for someone who can remember the scenes televised during the revolution this novel is a gem
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5.0 out of 5 stars a great insight, 2 Jun 2014
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I didn't know what to expect when I downloaded this book, I expected a factual historical account written in documentary style; I was however pleasantly surprised to get a novel about living in Romania during the last days of the communists. It gives a taste of what life was like, restriction in power supply, lack of variety of food etc. I enjoyed it especially as I remember the fall of communism which due to press restrictions was a bit of a shock. I would highly recommend this book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Romania, 17 May 2014
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I have been in Romania in the last few years so it interested me to read this book. The book is a novel.
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5.0 out of 5 stars compelling, 17 May 2014
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I enjoyed this very much, though as an ex pat who remembers her early days (not the same country, but some of the same feelings and echoes of events) and now reading it in Turkey it as a leader seems to be trying to establish the beginnings of his own regime on us, it is impossible to untangle whether I found it compelling because it was so well written or because I identified with so many elements of it. I like to think it was both.
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The Last Hundred Days
The Last Hundred Days by Patrick McGuinness
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