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3.60  ·  Rating details ·  1,072 ratings  ·  130 reviews
Tremendously popular on the Internet, 253 is one of the year's most imaginative, unclassifiable books.
What it is: 
A London tube train, with all seats occupied, carries 252 passengers. The driver makes 253. Each one has a secret history, thoughts about themselves and the world. And each one's story takes one page (comprised of exactly 253 words) in this novel.
Meet Estelle,
Paperback, 384 pages
Published August 15th 1998 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published February 1998)
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Average rating 3.60  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,072 ratings  ·  130 reviews

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Paul Bryant
Oct 13, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
This was tedious postmodern whatever who cares "experimental" crap of the worst sort.

Although I would like to make it clear that I think the author was, is, and always will be a really nice person.

This book was so grindingly obvious in all its techniques and the "shock ending" was telegraphed so far in advance a person in a deep coma would have sussed it by page three if their loved one had started reading it to them. Actually, it would have cured the person in the deep coma, because they would
Apr 11, 2011 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: People who like non-linear narratives
On 02:53 on the 25th of March, it so happened that there were exactly 253 people in the world reading Geoff Ryman's novel. For 253 seconds, each of them [Get on with it - Ed]. Oh yes. Here are some of their stories.


Keith, a graceless, limp-haired student, lives in Seattle, WA. He is writing a dissertation on 253. His girlfriend, Miranda, had suggested the idea to him a few weeks ago, and he gratefully accepted.

Now Miranda has just left him, and he's stuck. The dissertation is due
William Mansky
Jan 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The first and biggest thing you need to know about this book is that you shouldn't buy it, or borrow it, or look for it at your local library. You should read it online at This was the original format in which it was published, and it really isn't the same without the hyperlinks.

The second thing you should know is what you're getting into. The majority of the novel consists of 253 character descriptions, each one 253 words long. If this sounds terribly precious, well, it is, but
Mar 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is 253 one-page descriptions, each 253 words long, of 253 London Underground passengers riding between three stops. Which sounds like some kind of workshop exercise taken to mad extremes. I was given this book by my friend Charlie years ago but posponed reading it because it seemed too show-offy and empty of an idea. I was wrong. 253 is great writing, but also something more: a vibrant portrait of mid-ninties London humanity. By the time it's over, all 253 stories have added up to a touchin ...more
Jun 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
253 words each about 253 passengers on a London subway train, and the entire novel takes place in seven minutes. I'm normally skeptical of novels with too much cleverness, but somehow he made this one work. It's human and touching and funny and very much set in 1995.
Neil Powell
Jun 04, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
An infuriating read. The general premise is intriguing, as I have often wondered what people are thinking about on public transport. However the book is mess because of several key failings:

1. Although each page of 253 characters makes for a relatively quick read in theory, in practice (for me anyway), trying to remember how the characters from different carriages link together meant that I was constantly tracking back and forth through the pages trying to jog my memory. Very irritating and made
Sep 03, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
253-word character descriptions about 253 different people all taking a 7 minute journey on a London tube on January 11th 1995 (Fun fact: I was born two days after that date - therefore, most of the cultural references go right over my head)

All I would say about this book is it is stylistically more delightful more than providing an easy, fun, fulfilling read.

Jan 21, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is absolutely awful. If I could give it negative stars I would, -3 stars to this. It's a good concept that is executed terribly. Each person on this train has their own page long story, but each person is boring, I forgot half the stories a second after reading them and the other half barely even went in. This was fairly progressive in several ways and honestly offensive in many others. I know that there should be separation of the author from the text, but honestly, I felt genuinely sick r ...more
Nicolas Chinardet
On paper 253 sounds like it’s been written just for me. Its location (the southern end of the Bakerloo Line) and its premise (people-watching on the tube) are indeed right up my street (literally, since I live at the end of that line). And on whole I did enjoy it. Ryan’s book is sufficiently vivacious and inventive to keep the reader interested in what could otherwise become very monotonous very quickly.

This is quite an atypical book, an experimental one. Written originally for the web, there i
Sally Whitehead
I first encountered this book back in the late 90s not long after it was published. One of my then 6th form A-Level Literature students lent me their copy after raving about it, but I had to return it before I'd really started it (*Note to Self* Never borrow books)

Over the years it has popped into my head on several occasions and I was always intrigued by the premis and concept behind it. So, when I saw it in a local oxfam bookshop it was an impulsive "must buy" and an easy "must finally properl
Aisling Doherty
Mar 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Loved it. 253 passengers & 253 words about each. A writing exercise extended! ...more
Jan 22, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: diss-fiction
So I'm reading a bunch of interactive fiction these days, and 253 was recommended to me as an early example of hypertext.

The conceit is relatively clever, and some of the character descriptions are good--I enjoyed the pigeon, the fanfic writer, and the snuggler--but overall I don't get any sense that these individual moments are leading up to anything. The event of the train crash was pretty boring, despite being foreshadowed. There were so many characters that I couldn't remember any of them we
Jun 04, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, canadian-lit
I can't even begin to speak coherently about this book. It's an experimental novel: 253 portraits of 253 passengers on a London tube train that's about to crash. Ryman gives the reader brief insights into these ordinary people's lives, some of which are interconnected, some of which are funny, tragic, etc. Ryman himself is a passenger; so's a pigeon. And some of the people live, and some of them die. Part of the interest, one would think, would be to see who falls into which category when you re ...more
Apr 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
Mind the gap.

(view spoiler)
A possible cult classic in the making – only time will tell on that though. I was given this as a birthday present from a friend and was dubious at first as there really isn’t a basic plot or much to keep the attention span going, but once I started reading it I realised I was very much mistaken. This book taps in perfectly into my voyeuristic nature.

Ryman gives us a snapshot of each passenger on a seven and a half minute journey on a tube train. Each character is described by their outward appe
Aug 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is a book-ization of what was originally a web hypertext novel. It makes great toilet or before bed or when you just have a moment reading, as it consists of 253 one page descriptions of passengers on a london underground train in the mid nineties.

That's a lot of characters. For the most part they are interesting, and an overarching narrative slowly appears. Not that the narrative is that strong, but it does add a bit.

This book does lose something compared to the hypertext, as many characte
Jul 02, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'd give it 2 1/2 if I could... It was a clever idea... 253 characters each with a 253-word story travelling on an Underground train. And well executed within its strict parameters.

I love character-driven books. The trouble I found with this was although there were compelling characters... they were only with you for 253 words. And because I wasn't emotionally ready to meet the next one(!) I'd read the next page and have no idea what I'd just read. It made me desperate to finish it so I could ge
Jun 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book is essentially 253 linked pieces of flash fiction detailing the 253 interweaving lives of 253 people riding on a train in London one morning in 1995. I wasn't sure whether or not I would survive this particular gimmick, but about 1/4 of the way in I started to hit my groove in the story and, ultimately, I found the experience of reading this unusual novel (?) compelling and emotionally satisfying.
Aug 16, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2009
253 passengers, 253 words each, and thankfully not another late 90s post modern parlor game. Ryman makes each character come alive, if only for seven and a half minutes. He is a tad harsh on Oregon, though. Ouch.
Sep 20, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

3.5 Stars!

“If you plagiarize parts of this novel, I will get ugly and sue. Save yourself the trouble. I am an author myself and understand the need to recycle material. Simply write to me, stating which parts of my novel you wish to purchase.”

This is a frankly bizarre threat, put in page 4 of this book, which left me rather puzzled as to its purpose. Is it an attempt at humour?...Or is it a needlessly aggressive statement, maybe it’s something to do with being brought up in litigiously obsessed
Oct 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Train enthusiasts or fans of alternative fiction.
Recommended to Bradley by:
I am a fan of trains and specifically the tube. Whilst browsing the internet for books pertaining to my hobby, among the usual enthusiast guides I found this intriguing book. As other reviewers have mentioned, this book has 253 characters which each have 253 words devoted to them, who are all unfortunately on a train heading to doom at Elephant and Castle. The characters on the web edition are linked by hyperlinks, which is replaced by a comprehensive index at the rear of the print edition.

Thomas Hale
Jul 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
It's set on a London underground train, with 253 passengers (including the driver). You're given the layout of each carriage, where each character is sitting, and each character gets exactly 253 words describing their appearance, their inner thoughts, and what they're doing/thinking. The actual timespan of the book is about seven minutes, but you get to learn about every person on the train, their relationships, their connections and interactions. And the book is peppered with footnotes, little ...more
Jun 29, 2018 rated it did not like it
second hand charity paperback

Incredibly disappointing. This was just a load of character sketches. Nothing more really- A blurry mish-mash of random people who were probably all inter-connected, but by the time I had read 20 of these I wanted something 'proper' to read.
I guess the ending was gruesome, but to be honest, I don't really care. None of these characters mattered. They were all just words on paper. Fakes.
Aug 20, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I hate to admit it but this is the second book I have ever gave up on. I got to page 109 but I just didn't care anymore. I found it really boring and spent the whole time wondering what the point was. Sad to say it wasn't for me and that's disappointing to me aswell as I've had this book for years on my bookshelf and I finally pick it up and it will be going straight to the charity shop.
Sep 04, 2020 rated it liked it
Literary performance art
"The British think they would love to live in America. What the Brits don't know is that there is no freedom in American life. Everything is ruled by the dollar and its logic and thee is no escape. Just great movies and great manners and terrible religion to mask the imprisonment, and get people through to the end of their lives."
Feb 08, 2018 rated it liked it
Interesting premise, but didn't like all the bad language and was kind of confused at the ending
Joe Richards
Feb 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Quirky, original, well thought-out and as engaging as you want it to be.
Apr 03, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Awfully boring and predictable.
Aug 08, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020, uk-ireland
Great concept but the stories didn't do it for me.
Peter Rømer
Oct 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
Nice with something different and although the book can be a little boring at times Geoff Ryman does manage to express something interesting and emotional through his concept. Some cool rush hour city vibes, 90s tech hypes, and London as a cool cosmopolitan city.
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Geoffrey Charles Ryman (born 1951) is a writer of science fiction, fantasy and slipstream fiction. He was born in Canada, and has lived most of his life in England.

His science fiction and fantasy works include The Warrior Who Carried Life (1985), the novella The Unconquered Country (1986) (winner of the British Science Fiction Award and the World Fantasy Award), and The Child Garden (1989) (winner

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