The Last Hundred Days – Patrick McGuinness

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The Last Hundred Days Long listed for 2011 Booker Prize

Five words from the blurb: Romanians, danger, corruption, destroy, Ceausescu

The Last Hundred Days explains what life was like for Romanians in the final months of Ceausescu’s reign. The story is told through the eyes of an English student who arrives in Bucharest after being given a job, despite not turning up for the interview. From the perspective of this outsider we see the destruction of the city, the corruption required to get everything from food to medical supplies, and the violence that regularly occurs.

The book was very well researched, giving a vivid snapshot of life in Bucharest during 1989. The problem was that it read like a non-fiction title. The detail will prove fascinating to anyone interested in researching the city, but is too much for the average reader.

I also found the writing to be quite detached. I couldn’t connect to any of the characters and so failed to form an emotional response to any of the scenes in the book, no matter how disturbing the content. The fact that the narrator was from England also added a level of detachment to the plot. As a newcomer to the city he couldn’t fully explain the pain that the residents felt seeing their city destroyed and there was always the knowledge that he could leave and return to his normal life at any point.

Unlike the majority of the Booker long list, this book did have a plot. The problem was that I didn’t really care about it – things happened, but I had no real interest in the outcome.

Despite these criticisms this book did engage me enough to read to the end. I learnt a lot about life under Ceausescu, including the fact that having a miscarriage was a crime.

A ‘celibacy tax’ was imposed on women who could have children but did not, while officials were sent to interrogate women about their sexual habits. ‘Anyone who avoids having children is a deserter,’ proclaimed Ceausescu, announcing the ‘Mama Eroica’ scheme to reward mothers with five or more children. But there was no milk, no food; it was impossible to find sterilised feeding equipment; electricity was now as random and inscrutable as Acts of God had been for ancient civilisations.

The book does a fantastic job of teaching the reader about this period of history, but if you like to form an emotional connection to the characters/plot then it probably isn’t for you.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

McGuinness has done an awe-inspiring job of capturing the sordid, decaying and disjointed “communist way of life” in Bucharest during the summer of ’89. Permanently Uncached

…factual mistakes started accruing at an alarmingly fast rate…. Fantasy Book Critic

I’d say the major flaw here was the disjointed nature of the story telling and the philosophical musings. Chazz W


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  1. JoV says:

    Sorry that this didn’t work out for you. Out of all the longlist I thought this look promising and is something I would pick up and read. I applaud your decision to read some of these longlist despite all seems to be lacklustre.

    Hope you have a great weekend.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jo, This one did sound promising and it did contain a lot of interesting information. It is just a shame that it wasn’t all wrapped up with a compelling plot and engaging characters – it could have been a fantastic book :-(

  2. Sandy says:

    What is up with Bookers having no plot? I’ll never understand their method of choosing the long lists or the winners. I must say that I AM interested in this bit of history, such a modern day tragedy. I’m not sure I have the tenacity to slog through something this detached, but I’m going to give it some consideration. Nice review.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, Reading most of this book wasn’t a slog (although there was a short bit in the middle that felt that way!) I wouldn’t have finished it if it had been that slow. I think you’d find a lot to like in this book, especially if you’re interested in reading a non-fiction-like account of the period.

  3. Amy says:

    This book sounds interesting but almost more like a text book filled with research or as you said, non-fiction. I don’t know a lot about life under Ceausescu so that aspect odf the book sounds interesting to me. I just don’t know it it would sustain me for the entire book. It’s a shame McGuiness didn’t give readers at least one character to connect with. Isn’t Booker interesting…you finally get a plot but the characters do nothing for you…

    1. Jackie says:

      Amy, I often avoid non-fiction books because I worry about the dryness of the facts- prefering them to mixed up with an emotional plot. In reality good non-fiction can be just as compelling as fiction, but I’m afraid this book wasn’t.

  4. Mrs.B says:

    The more I read reviews from the Booker longlist the more I just don’t understand their choices this year. But I’m still quite curious which 6 they come up with today from such a mediocre list.

    1. Jackie says:

      Mrs. I’m looking forward to seeing the short list selection. I think it will probably look quite acceptable in comparison to the long list. I’ve just posted my prediction for the short list so you’re welcome to let me know what you think :-)

  5. Louise says:

    It sounds like it should be good but is disappointing. I have real issues with the Booker Prize – I like very few of the winners and wonder what possesses the judges to make the decisions they do.

    1. Jackie says:

      Louise, The Booker is very hit/miss for me too. If only I could be a judge ;-)

  6. Stujallen says:

    This is one that jump out at me on longlist but when I thought o
    About it I could think of couple books in translation that dealt with the time that I ve not read so will read them instead I think jackie it is looking a odd booker list this time all the best stu

    1. Jackie says:

      Stu, I’ll keep an eye out for Romanian books on your blog. Hopefully you’ll be able to recommend something to me soon. ;-)

  7. Thanks for the link back to my review, and the shout out.

    I find it interesting how the exact reasons I love the book are some of the points you mark it down for. Having been to Romania and being half Romanian, though exceedingly lucky to have been born and raised in Western Europe, i repetition the drollness, the inconsequential happenings and the double dealing and cultural destruction are what mark the book out and massively underscore the reality.

    I don’t think we, with the privilege of a free upbringing can really understand this and how it was. Herta Muller does as good a job, but she lived under the constant threat of the regime whilst McGuiness “did not”, this is what makes his capacity all the more extraordinary.

    1. Jackie says:

      Vincent, Thank you for explaining your love for this book. I appreciate the way this book explained the situation in Romania, but I wanted more connection to events. I think a skilled author can convey the feelings of those brought up under this type of regime and have read many books which do explain the fear and powerlessness of ordinary citizens. Thanks for mentioning Muller – I’ll try to locate one of her books and see if it does a better job of capturing the feelings of the period.

      1. She was last year’s Nobel Laureate, and despite escaping finally back to her roots in Germany and 20 years plus after the fall of Ceaucescu continues to expose the duress she is under. Definitely worth a read. Enjoy!

  8. Sorry that you’ve been striking out with the Booker longlist boosk! When you mentioned the fact about miscarriage being a crime, I suddenly remembered a much-praised foreign film from not long ago called 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days. I haven’t seen it yet, but it’s about a Romanian college student who seeks to have an abortion with the help of her friend.

  9. Ellie says:

    The detachment is disappointing as the subject matter sounds very interesting.

  10. Jenners says:

    Our neighbors are from Romania so I might have to read this just to understand what they went through (and why they chose to leave).


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