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The Last Hundred Days

Patrick McGuinness
ISBN-13: 
9781854115416
Publication Date: 
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
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WINNER OF WALES BOOK OF THE YEAR PRIZE 2012

WINNER OF THE 2012 WRITERS GUILD AWARD FOR 'BEST FICTION BOOK'

LONG-LISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2011

SHORT-LISTED FOR THE 2011 COSTA FIRST NOVEL AWARD

SHORT-LISTED FOR THE DESMOND ELLIOT PRIZE 2012

SHORT-LISTED FOR THE AUTHORS CLUB BEST FIRST NOVEL AWARD 2012

"engaging" The New York Times Book Review

"stunning" The Times

"an assured performance" The Literary Review

"Sinister, comic and lyrical, it vividly captures the end of a long nightmare" i-newspaper

"...a coming-of-age story with a vivid historical backdrop..."  Washington Post

"It's a brilliant first novel set in 1989, in the writhing demise of communist Bucharest - dark, immaculately written, bitterly lucid and very gripping." James Wood - New Statesman Book of the Year

"..engrossing debut novel..I defy anyone not to revel in 350-odd pages of it at least" Time Out Magazine ****

Book of the Month (June 2011) Buzz Magazine

"...the sardonic crispness and evocative power of its language distinguishes it from the run of contemporary fiction." Sean O'Brien, TLS

"The descriptions are moments of total stillness in the book, and it's spellbinding" We Love This Book Magazine

"The opening chapter is superb. McGuinness is an accomplished poet and writes with superb clarity. The novel is littered with aperçus that have the reader reaching for a pencil." The Independent

"McGuinness does a fantastic job of portraying the paranoia, corruption and chaos of the time..." Alternative Magazine Online

"...thoroughly enjoyable and profound" - Suzi Feay (The Tablet)

Oxford Times interview with Patrick - click here

Set during Ceausescu's last hundred days in power, Patrick McGuinness's accomplished debut novel explores a world of danger, repression and corruption.

When our narrator, a young English student with a damaged past and an uncertain future, arrives in Bucharest he finds himself in a job he never applied for. With duties that become increasingly ambiguous and precarious, he soon finds himself uncomfortably and often dangerously close to the eye of the storm. He learns, as he goes, the uncertainty of friendships in a surveillance society: friendships that are compromised and riddled with danger and duplicity. He encounters dissidents, party apparatchiks, black-markerteers, diplomats, spies and ordinary Romanians, their lives all intertwined against a background of severe poverty and repression as Europe's most paranoid regime plays out its bloody endgame.

The socialist state is in stasis, the shops are empty and old Bucharest vanishes daily under the onslaught of Ceausescu’s demolition gangs. Paranoia is pervasive and secret service men lurk in the shadows.

www.patrickmcguinness.org.uk

Wales Online Article

Review from The Observer

REVIEWS

Review by Rachel Carney, Created To Read

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Set in communist Romania, in 1989, The Last Hundred Days is a fascinating, vivid portrayal of the last months of the Ceauşescu regime. The absurdity of living in a city full of corruption, lies and paranoia is emphasised by the fact that the story is narrated by a young, nameless English student, an outsider who is adrift and immune, in a world full of danger and repression.    

Our nameless protagonist arrives in Bucharest, eager to escape Britain after the death of his parents, and only mildly suspicious at being offered a job without even having turned up for the interview. He immediately becomes firm friends with his colleague Leo (also British) who is a loveable black marketer, obsessed with recording and preserving the ‘old city’ before it is completely destroyed, hoarding antiques and searching out historical treasures in a kind of frenzy.

To begin with, the narrative seems to focus on the protagonist’s observations, revealing scene after scene of hypocrisy and hardship. Gradually, he becomes more involved, beginning a relationship with Celia (the daughter of a high-ranking official), and becoming friends with Trofim (an old communist who is writing his memoirs). This portion of the book feels quite long and, although it is packed full of incredible descriptions of the rapidly changing city, the plot seems to stall slightly around a third of the way through. It does, however, serve to demonstrate the “totalitarian boredom” of living in “a state of expectation already heavy with its own disappointment”.

Despite this, I relished reading the intricate, detailed accounts of a place ravished by the whims of political will:

“It was desolation: villages that had stood for centuries were bulldozed in a morning, to be replaced with high-rise blocks surrounded by scrubland or factory complexes that looked like abandoned galactic penal colonies. Romania was being turned into a huge, pastless no-place…”

The characters are powerfully real, dealing, each in their own way, with the lies and uncertainty around them. You can tell that the author has lived through this himself. In fact, it was interesting to hear him speak about the novel at the Cardiff Book Festival in October. He explained that living in Bucharest had “a powerful effect” on him, that the atmosphere was one of “psychological violence” where “no-one could tell the truth, they could only lie in a way that told you they were lying”. This definitely comes across in the book, along with a strong sense of irony. For example, May Day is described as “an excuse for a minutely planned display of spontaneous celebration” in which citizens are forced to parade about, creating a false show of conformity.

There is one line, in fact, that really sums up the absurdity of building friendships with people whilst also continually lying, even to those closest to you. The protagonist, as he gets used to this double-dealing, begins to develop a different way of understanding people: “He couldn’t be trusted. I was used to that. But was he untrustworthy in ways I could rely on?”

There is a sense of frustration and unease that runs throughout the novel. Even at the very beginning, there are hints that all is not as it may seem: the young man arrives to a fully stocked flat belonging to his predecessor, whom nobody will talk about, and soon learns to compartmentalise people and their actions:

“When Rodica… opened our offices for the police to search our things and copy our papers, or the landlady let them into my flat, I said nothing. I knew they knew I knew, and it changed nothing.”

In some ways, this book reminded me of Snowdrops by A.D.Miller, simply because both stories are narrated by a British male living in a communist country, experiencing first-hand the corruption and complexity of a system that is foreign to them. But The Last Hundred Days is written in an entirely different style, packed full of detailed passages which bring to life the surreal sense of unease and uncertainty. It is also far more intricate, depicting a world where humanity adapts under extreme circumstances and where, despite the constant lying and betrayal, people are still able to form functioning relationships.

The ending is inevitable, as the book is based on historical events, but it is both unnerving and thrilling to read about them from the perspective of someone who was there. As with many historical novels, it is difficult to separate the fiction from fact, but this makes it even more exciting to read, and the tension continues up until the final page.

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Review from Washington Post

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Longlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize and chosen as Wales Book of the Year, this novel is full of ideas, characters and circumstances that are at odds with one another. McGuinness, who lived in Romania when Ceausescu was in power, has created a coming-of-age story with a vivid historical backdrop — the Berlin Wall coming down, the uprising in Romania, the shooting of Ceausescu and his wife — as well as an exploration of how people operate in a totalitarian society.

McGuinness’s narrator, a young academic, enjoys the access to different classes of society that outsiders sometimes are accorded in a foreign country. He eats in a well-stocked restaurant frequented by Communist Party officials, while regular citizens queue for basics. He sleeps with the daughter of a high-ranking politician, helps a former party leader leak his memoirs to Paris and helps several young people illegally cross the border into Yugoslavia.

When a friend is killed, though, the conflicts become more personal and the novel grows more tense. McGuinness explores the ethical balancing act people must perform when the rules are skewed. In this world, characters sometimes must believe someone even when they don’t trust him.

Also a poet, the sharply observant McGuinness has filled his novel with quick, witty descriptions of people, places and situations. If the narrator’s story is sometimes overshadowed by its historical setting, perhaps that’s only right, given these earth-shaking events. McGuinness does more, however, than explore how people acted in this now transformed country. He’s captured the way corruption and tyranny warp behavior in any society.

Carole Burns, Washington Post

29/08/2012 - 10:33
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Review from The Telegraph

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Patrick McGuinness’s The Last Hundred Days is set in extreme historical conditions – the final months of Ceausescu’s power in what the narrator calls “Europe’s saddest dictatorship”. The setting is a city-wide theatre of the absurd, yet while McGuinness is adept at conveying the poetry and comedy of Bucharest on the road to extinction, the passages that prove the varied strength of his writing are those about the narrator’s parents, both dead, briefly recalled with aching twists of bitterness and never revisited.

Gaby Wood The Telegraph 22

21/12/2011 - 11:30
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Review from The Independent

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Within weeks of publication, Patrick McGuinness's debut novel found itself on the Man Booker long-list, and deservedly so. Set in Bucharest in 1989, it reawakens that state of stunned disbelief as successive Soviet bloc countries underwent bloodless revolutions, until there was only Romania at the end of the queue, making a bloody hash of it.

The novel describes the oppression and deprivation of the Romanian people in the build-up to that coup, and paints a sordid picture of the corruption of their rulers.

It feels oddly contemporary, especially in the way that a grasping elite escape the consequences of their actions and rise above the chaos. Not that the Ceausescus themselves did, of course: their messy trial and execution provides a resonant coda.

The opening chapter is superb: its discourse on the state of boredom offers a kind of conceptual counterpoint to an unfurling narrative, with its cast of impressively drawn characters, that is almost Tolstoyan in scope. "In the West we've always thought of boredom as slack time, life's lift music sliding off the ear. Totalitarian boredom is different. It's a state of expectation already heavy with its own disappointment."

McGuinness is an accomplished poet and writes with superb clarity. The novel is littered with aperçus that have the reader reaching for a pencil. Here is Bucharest: "a heat-beaten brutalist maze whose walls and towers melted like sugar". And here is the unctuous consular attaché Wintersmith (straight out of Greene-land) and the British expat community, "where largely identical people fuck each other interchangeably". Here is the Boulevard of Socialist Victory: "a vast avenue that didn't so much vanish into the distance as use it up, drawing everything around into itself." And here is the grim Stoicu, interior minister, with the "eyes of a man who sought in those around him the lowest motivation and always found it."

Ceausescu was so paranoid that he would duplicate, no, triplicate his daily motorcade through Bucharest with decoy performances: "One of the cars was for the Ceausescu's dog, and he even had two doggy decoys, a punchline to a joke no one could any longer bear to tell about a world whose brutality was matched only by its absurdity." McGuinness was himself in Bucharest just prior to the fall of the regime, and his observations have the unmistakeable scent of authenticity. This is a novel that rages and flows by turn, but rarely disappoints.

14/09/2011 - 11:32
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Review from i-Newspaper

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Long-listed for the Booker unlucky not to progress, this novel of final phase of Ceausescu's dictatorship in Romania joins a poet's eye for telling detail to a historian's grasp of the rhythms of change. Sinister, comic and lyrical, it vividly captures the end of a long nightmare.

i-Newspaper 2011

14/09/2011 - 11:22
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Review by Sean O'Brien, TLS

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The Last Hundred Days is an ambitious work, at ease with intimacy as well as with the sudden eruption of crowd scenes as the regime disintegrates and re-forms itself. It manages to be both funny and horrifying, sceptical but not fatally poisoned by the encounter. Above all, the sardonic crispness and evocative power of its language distinguishes it from the run of contemporary fiction.

11/08/2011 - 14:19
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Review from Time Out London

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Spending a couple of years in Bucharest prior to the 1989 revolutions gave Patrick McGuinness the raw material for this engrossing debut novel. English student flukes his way into an admin job at a university where back-marketeer Leo, takes him under his wing - just as the wheels are starting to turn ahead of Nicolae Ceausescu's violent demise. Together he and Leo take long walks in the 'lost city', imagining the buildings Ceausescu tore down to make space for unfinished 'modern' concrete blocks, eat fancy dinners off limits to most Romanians and help dissidents. But in a country where the secret police is everywhere, and public image is a charade (shops get food to display if an official motorcade is passing, the products removed straight after) it's hard to know if anyone or-thing is what it seems.

Our narrator, however, takes the absurdities in his stride, making any excuse not to return to London to take care of his deceased parents' meagre estate. Instead he immerses himself in a new life which for him is gull of meaning and real people. He forms relationships with two very different women - one of whom has a father who's a loyal party apparatchik. In contrast to his miserable upbringing, the narrator finds a sense of purpose being among and - ultimately - helping people in Bucharest.

After evocative descriptions of the city's maddening but mesmerising day-to-day life early on in the book the final couple of chapters fizzle out with the protagonist's resolution paling into insignificance as a violent revolution unfolds and the bodies pile up. The reader is aware well ahead of the plot that Ceausescu is destined to fall and feels acutely that the lives of McGuinness's characters can't compete with that bombshell. Most of us wouldn't have fancied spending an extended period living cults the world has ever seen but I defy anyone not to revel in 350-odd (and I mean odd) pages of it at least.

Ben Isaacs

23/06/2011 - 16:06