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The Collected Stories
John McGahern
George Eliot
Omensetter's Luck
William H. Gass
Swann's Way
Marcel Proust, Lydia Davis
A Naked Singularity (Paper)
Sergio De La Pava
The Master and Margarita
Mikhail Bulgakov, Richard Pevear, Larissa Volokhonsky
Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews
Geoff Dyer
Infinite Jest
David Foster Wallace
Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self
Claire Tomalin
Maps and Legends
Michael Chabon
The Last Hundred Days - Patrick McGuinness The Last Hundred Days are those of Ceausescu’s Romania. The real historical events leading up to the Romanian Revolution are a scaffold for the fictional narrative. The story is told from the vantage of an expat Brit who was just looking to get a job and it happened to land him there during the last few months of the regime in 1989. The author, Patrick McGuinness, lived in Romania at the time and so would seem to have an insider’s authentic impressions. He is also a poet and writer, and professor of literature at Oxford, and it is his wonderful prose that elevates this novel.
“As a power-saving measure, museum visitors were organised into groups and the lights in each room were turned on as you entered and off as you left,…It was like a tide of darkness following you, engulfing room after room behind you as you went.”
“Trofim greeted everyone as if he had heard of them before, as if they came to him cresting the wave of a happy reputation.”
“This is what surveillance does: we stop being ourselves, and begin living alongside ourselves. Human nature cannot be changed, but it can be brought to a degree of self-consciousness that denatures it.”

The book was longlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2011, and I was struck by the similarities it shared with another Booker nominee that year, Snowdrops (which unaccountably made the leap to the short list). Both books could be described by the same paragraph: An English expat ends up in (Romania, Russia), not entirely of his own volition but wants to make the best of it and make a good impression. He falls for an extraordinarily but mysterious beautiful woman, who may, or may not, be what she seems. Could she be a double agent? The characters in his life are pragmatic idealists, or are they?, and he learns quickly that life in (Romania, Russia) is definitely not what it appears to be on the surface. Corruption, hypocrisy and violence are the currency of (Romania, Russia). Despite the hardships and privations, extraordinary by British standards, he begins to feel part of his new home country. But even that might not be enough to withstand the extreme turmoil that is about to happen.

I think this is the kind of book to which [b:Snowdrops|9579671|Snowdrops|A.D. Miller|http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51ry5kYo41L._SL75_.jpg|14466568] was, in vain, aspiring to be. I even idly wondered if the Booker judges actually meant this book to be the shortlisted one, but got tripped up by a series of clerical bunglings (Dame Sheila imperiously waves to the underling clerk and says, “put this book about the Brit duck-out-of-water in a communist country on the short list; it will add a bit of variety.” )
There are a rich assortment of characters, reminiscent of the cast of Casablanca, and some of the descriptions are funny. “Their parties, an endless round of cocktails and booze-ups,…the circuit as a whole is…’a doppelgangbang: where largely identical people fuck each other interchangeably’” His beautiful girlfriend is dismissed by a cynical friend as “Ah, Cliea — a girl of many layers; layer upon layer of surface…”

This book gives us illuminating glimpses into the deep darknesses of humans, and we see ourselves.
“For all the grotesqueness and brutality, it was normality that defined our relations: the human capacity to accommodate ourselves to our conditions, not the duplicity and corruption that underpinned them. This was also our greatest drawback — the routinisation of want, sorrow, repression, until they became invisible, until they numbed you even to atrocity.” (Of course, we like to think of ourselves as the more noble and heroic characters in the book, not the venal corrupt ones that are more akin to our least favourite acquaintances.) “…The system was breaking down into its constituent parts, paranoia and apathy, and as the centre started to give way the two were left to engage in their great, blurred, inconclusive Manichean struggle. Apathy and paranoia: two drunks fighting slowly around a park bench.”