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253: A Novel Paperback – August 15, 1998

18 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Since a fully occupied London subway car would have 253 seated passengers (including the driver), Ryman's diverting experimental fiction contains 253 character sketches of 253 words each. Taking place on a Bakerloo-line train heading south toward the Elephant and Castle station, this interconnected series of vignettes fills a seven and a half minute journey with amazing richness. Ryman, whose novel Was deconstructed The Wizard of Oz, displays a Chekhovian touch with mundane reality, coincidences both absurd and poignant and life's inexhaustible surprises. Among the cast of Londoners, tourists, exiles, immigrants and other passengers is Margaret Thatcher (not that one); an ice-cream manufacturer self-styled "Bertie Jeeves"; a mass murderer's former co-worker and a near-victim of his; Henri Matisse's heir; somebody named Geoff Ryman on his day off; a band of actor-buskers called "Mind the Gap"; and a pigeon. 253 was originally a hypertext posted on the Web, but it makes the transition to print without losing fascinating structural appeal (readers will have to provide the links between the characters for themselves). In case this scenario seems unsuspenseful, it's only fair to reveal that the driver has fallen asleep at the wheel and that the mysterious last passenger provides a miraculous coda. In this low-tech paper-based format, 253 makes for ideal commuter reading and possibly the best subway ride readers will take. (Sept.) www.ryman-novel.com.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Ryman's print version of a novel originally published in cyberspace often seems like an adult version of the "Choose Your Own Adventure" series. The 252 passengers and the driver of a London subway train are hurtling toward a crash in 7.5 minutes. Ryman (Was, Knopf, 1992) devotes a page of text, exactly 253 words long, to each individual, covering appearance, biography, thoughts, and actions. In the web version, the reader makes hypertext jumps to connect passengers. A husband and wife are both on the train in separate cars. Many persons work at the same firms. As in real life, coincidental relationships abound. On the web, it's possible in three or four jumps to arrive at the crash without reading most of the text. The linear essence of print, however, makes it likely that readers will complete the entire novel. Narrative gimmick aside, Ryman's ability to sketch a whole person instantly and create a community of interrelationships eventually involves the reader in his wild ride. For collections of experimental fiction.?Andrea Caron Kempf, Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; 1st edition (August 15, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312182953
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312182953
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #641,764 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Geoff Ryman is a Canadian living in the United Kingdom. His first book based on events in Cambodia was published in 1985, the award-winning The Unconquered Country. The King's Last Song was inspired by a visit to an Australian archaeological dig at Angkor Wat in 2000. He has been a regular visitor since, teaching writing workshops in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap twice, and publishing three further novellas set in Cambodia. In Britain he produced documentaries for Resonance FM, London, on Cambodian Arts. He has published nine other books and won fourteen awards. He teaches creative writing at the University of Manchester.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 21, 1998
Format: Paperback
Geoff Ryman is one of the best writers out there (WAS was a tour de force) and 253 is unquestionably my favourite novel of the last year. Its effect is cumulative. One by one we meet all of the 253 people on a London tube train, all of them -- or some of them -- heading towards their destiny (it's not exactly a surprise -- person # 1, the driver -- falls asleep with his jacket on the dead man's handle on the first page).
The way that stories intertwine and reveal and expose is astonishing. It's like reading a short story collection which slowly unfolds itself into a novel about all of us: funny sometimes, tragic sometimes, human always.
(I'm not convinced that the self-referential joky material between chapters do the book any favours, mind you. But if Geoff finds someone willing to pay him hundreds of thousands to support his writing habit through the final questionnaire, then I, for one, am not going to grumble.)
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Brooks Reeves on August 12, 2004
Format: Paperback
When I first heard about the premise of this book, I was already pretty intrigued. 253 stories about 253 characters, each containing exactly 253 words. I love stuff like that, just simply because of the ingenuity it forces a writer to utilize.

However, this book is a lot more than a clever premise. Each person's tale was a remarkable study. Some of them were so simple and poignant to the point of profundity. Some of them made me laugh outloud. Some of them (the way they interacted) was filled with such clever irony (like the woman whose histrionic pretence that she's being hunted by the IRA actually causes her to be tracked down by a spy). I could pick it up, put it down. Flip through the pages and go "aha!". This book is everything. It's a mystery. It's a novel. It's a poem. It's just just great.

Really. I loved reading this book. Buy it, and I hope you love it too.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By "blissengine" on March 7, 2004
Format: Paperback
In this innovative story originally written for the internet ([...] we follow the lives of the 253 passengers on a London tube train on January 11, 1995. Each passenger has one page of story told in 253 words, informing about secrets, loves, interests, and whatever else makes the passenger unique and ordinary. In this print version of the internet story, readers not only have the many cross-references, but also some extra information not on the internet where the author reworks to make things more clear, due to the different media of printed text. With marvelous wit and insight, Geoff Ryman creates a surprising portrait of humanity in all its intricacies and commonalities that feeds the voyeur in each reader and leaves us with a distinct vision of what it means to be really living.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Hein Ragas on January 11, 2000
Format: Paperback
"253" is an intriguing book: 253 characters are described, each in 253 words. Mr Ryman succeeds in crafting 253 short but complete stories: every character is believable (sort of). Some of the stories are wonderfully intertwined - we are witness to crimes being plotted and thwarted, dramatic decisions being made which affects one (or more) of the other passengers, etcetera. It stays interesting all the way through the book, just because of this intertwining of the character's fates - culminating in the apocalyptic end of the line.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By S. Michael Wilson VINE VOICE on September 22, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There are 253 passengers on a seven car Tube train that is about to crash. Every person, along with their thoughts and actions on their brief train ride (and including footnotes explaining their direct and/or indirect relationships with other people on the train), is described in exactly 253 words each.

While on the surface this may sound like nothing more than a mildly interesting experiment in constrained writing, the book manages to reach a deeper meaning than you would expect. Whether you read the book from beginning to or flip around to random parts at your leisure, the overall effect is the same; allowing you to freeze a moment in time and examine the lives and deaths of 253 people with more in common than they will ever truly realize. Contrasting and comparing their personalities and motivations affords the reader an almost God-like chance to examine the fantastic and mundane worlds of a train full of strangers as an intrinsic whole.

But don't let that scare you away. If you rather enjoy as a distraction rather than a perceptions-enhancing experience, it easily works on that level as well. No matter how you attack 253, it remains a truly unique book in both structure and subject matter, and equally enjoyable whether read in short bursts or cover to cover.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By lauren turner on November 28, 1999
Format: Paperback
'253' is a fascinating,original and wonderful book. Have you ever found yourself on the bus or train, letting your mind wander and wonder about all the people sitting around you? Well here, Geoff Ryman expertly offers you a glimpse into their lives through exploring 253 people with 253 words. Some people are dull, some strange, but some you'd like to read 253 pages on. The links between all the people gradually enmesh a web leading you to the 'End of the line!', about the only structure that this book has . But the lack of structure is a good thing. I guarantee ' 253 ' will be like anything you have read before, sparkling in its newness.
The internet version is also recommended as a compliment to the book.
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