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Expo 58
Expo 58
by Jonathan Coe
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £8.49

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Pleasant and amusing, but not a stunning return to form, 30 May 2013
This review is from: Expo 58 (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I used to be a big fan of Jonathan Coe, but feel that his work has gone off a bit in recent years. Expo 58 is a return to the comic vein of writing that was typical of Coe up to the time of The Rotters' Club. However, it doesn't show any of the interest in experimenting with form that Coe displayed in, say, What A Carve Up.

Expo 58 is a gentle comedy, which put me in mind of David Lodge - not the campus novels, but the ones about post-War Englishness, such as Out of the Shelter. The main character, Thomas, is a handsome and bored junior civil servant who gets packed off to Belgium to represent Britain at a World's Fair, partly on the grounds that he has a Belgian mother. The plan is to show what Britain's all about through the medium of a pub, the Britannia, and that becomes Thomas's role at this busy and bizarre international get-together, which is far, far removed from Thomas's familiar life in Tooting.

It's worth adding that most of this is based on reality: the centrepiece of the real-life Expo 58 was the Atomium, a building with a design inspired by the structure of an iron crystal; Coe mentions in his Acknowledgements that he was interviewed there in September 2010, and that the interview was the starting point for idea for this novel. (The Atomium plays a leading role in the novel.)

Thomas is a pleasant if not especially distinctive protagonist. He is a pretty typical innocent abroad, who gets caught up in the affairs of an enigmatic man called Chersky. Coe lays the thrillerish stuff on a bit thick, ending chapters with characters saying things like "Just remember one thing: this conversation never took place." The dialogue is actually one of the book's strengths, but at times it feels as though Coe has written the novel with a TV adaptation in mind - and the blurb mentions both Alfred Hitchocck and Ealing comedy, which are certainly appropriate points of reference.

Expo 58 is amusing, but it's not exactly a return to top form. It feels rather short of ambition, and its drama is mostly low-key. Overall I'd say this is a pleasantly readable novel, but not the promised incisive account of Britain standing at an important political crossroads. Nor is the humour very cutting or original, though the choice of setting is at least fresh.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 1, 2013 1:05 PM BST


Kiss Me First
Kiss Me First
by Lottie Moggach
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.49

11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A pretty absorbing debut, 28 May 2013
This review is from: Kiss Me First (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This debut novel from Lottie Moggach (daughter of Deborah Moggach of Best Exotic Marigold Hotel fame) is a pacy and well constructed cross between a psychological thriller and romance.

In tone it reminded me somewhat of Alex Garland's The Beach, though mostly the settings are less exotic (London's Kentish Town and Rotherhithe a lot of the time). The novel's major selling point is that it's about the internet and virtual relationships - in a sense it is about the whole transient, virtual nature of modern living. There are some interesting reflections on the question of how identity is being shaped by social media and other aspects of modernity, and the novel is definitely a page-turner.

That said, I wasn't entirely satisfied with the way the plot developed, and the book feels small in scope and impact, or at any rate is not the ambitious and original creation that it is being billed as by the publishers.

A lot of the book is taken up with depicting humdrum events, as one fairly ordinary character tries to get under the skin of a more unusual one (though arguably it's the reverse!), and the way they are described is not particularly memorable even though it is psychologically truthful.

The novel starts in a way that sucks you in but then it takes a while for the tension to escalate. I think Moggach is good overall at controlling the narrative, but I found her descriptive writing patchy, especially where the characters are concerned. The more philosophical parts of the novel feel like they were an important part of an early draft, but have been trimmed back to make the novel more commercial.

This is a decent book for holiday reading, but the jacket blurb says it's the "biggest" book of the year and makes a point of the fact that it comes from the publishers or The Road and American Psycho. It's miles away from both, and I think this is misleading hype.

I wavered between three and four stars. In the end I am going for four because I think Lottie Moggach is an accomplished storyteller who has created an involving plot. However, I don't see much in the style to call to mind the writers to which the publisher is likening Kiss Me First.


All That Is
All That Is
by James Salter
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.19

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Elegant rather than enjoyable, 30 April 2013
This review is from: All That Is (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
A new novel from James Salter is a rare thing, so I was looking forward to this a great deal. Salter writes well about ordinary life. He often has great economy as a stylist, saying a lot with a minimum of words. He can craft beautiful sentences. But here there are also weird imprecisions and a tendency to make a single point or observation in two ways, as if the second amplifies the first when in fact it diminishes it.

I never warmed to the main character, Philip Bowman, and the novel seems to strive too hard for a kind of grandeur. Often Salter writes something that sounds impressive but doesn't stand up to scrutiny. For example, "Great publishers were not always great readers, and good readers seldom made good publishers, but Bowman was somewhere in between." The tendency to strive for epigram is apparent throughout the book, but many of the epigrams don't add up to much. There's a description of London at one point which feels as if it was written by someone who has never been to London and simply read about it, complete with a reference to one of its defining features - "the secrets one would never know". While there is quite a lot in this novel to admire, it's a bit too full of faux-profound stuff about such "secrets one would never know".


Clearblue Digital Ovulation Test Kit Dual Hormone Indicator - (Pack of 20)
Clearblue Digital Ovulation Test Kit Dual Hormone Indicator - (Pack of 20)
Offered by Boost & Boom
Price: £32.19

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Useful but not robust, 30 April 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This product is an improvement on the more basic Clearblue tests I have used previously, as it enables you to identify the four days in your cycle where you have the best chance of conception. The instructions are clear, too. But the product is not that robust - it is possible to damage the holder by getting it wet, which, given that you urinate on the sticks, is hardly a remote possibility.


Who Owns The Future?
Who Owns The Future?
by Jaron Lanier
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stunning call to arms, 2 April 2013
This review is from: Who Owns The Future? (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This strikes me as a very important book. It explains how the way the global economy is constructed at present is deeply flawed. Information is what matters most in the economy, yet we are expected to surrender information without being paid for it.

Lanier is immersed in the world of tech and yet has become a critic of many of the received attitudes and philosophies of the tech biz. He foresees the hollowing out of the middle classes, and looks with concern and scepticism at the "winner takes all" society that is developing, in which huge rewards accrue to people who aggregate "content" but there are ever smaller rewards for the people who actually create that content.

The book is in part depressing, in part inspiring: it paints a picture of what society may become, but also shows a different route, towards what society could become - creative, democratic and post-capitalist. Lanier writes vigorously, in a style that can sometimes feel a bit wild and overcomplicated, yet in a way that is always engaging and absorbing. By no means an easy read, but a recommended one.


Cocofina 100 Percent Coconut Water 500ml (Pack of 6)
Cocofina 100 Percent Coconut Water 500ml (Pack of 6)
Price: £14.84

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not good value, 26 Mar 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I received this item free through the Amazon Vine programme, so obviously haven't had to pay for it personally, but I am astonished that the RRP is £15.54 for six bottles - i.e. £2.59 per bottle. At the current Amazon price of £7.77 it works out at a more palatable price, but there are better-tasting cocount waters on the market. This one has a most unpleasant aroma and milky taste I personally didn't care for. In common with other cocounut waters it is refreshing and makes an effective hangover cure. But while the product us coconut water pure and simple, the flavour has a very synthetic quality. I wouldn't bother with it again, though it does, like other coconut waters, give the impression of helping rapid rehydration; I don't actually know if this is scientifically proven, but note that the product's packaging certainly encourage this view!


The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves
The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves
by Stephen Grosz
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.99

9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Very poor, 4 Mar 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I bought The Examined Life expecting a book full of incisive writing, brilliant syntheses of carefully accumulated wisdom, and fine writing. I was disappointed. The Examined Life contains very little that an emotionally intelligent person wouldn't be able to see for themselves. It's banal and lightweight, providing no real insight into psychoanalysis or life.

Yes, the author is a calm, clear writer and may well be an excellent therapist. His voice is authoritative and he seems genuinely interested in his patients. The chapters, which feel like little exercises, are well balanced. However, this is an insubstantial, even hackneyed treatment of a subject in which many people have a profound interest. It might throw up a few intriguing ideas for someone who's never thought much about the psyche before. It didn't engage me, though I can see it working for some people as a self-help book, perhaps most useful to people who tend not to look at what's right in front of them.


How Should a Person Be?
How Should a Person Be?
by Sheila Heti
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A banal book masquerading as an interesting one, 4 Mar 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I read this having heard great things about the book's human insights. But it struck me as narcissistic, shoddily written, grandiose and dull. It is marketed as a novel, but it's more on the lines of a memoir or diary reworked into something a bit like a novel.

Why two stars rather than one? Because there were a few funny, knowing moments that recalled Lena Dunham's sharper, funnier TV show Girls. Overall, though, it reminded me of listening - not by choice, but because there was no escape - to someone really self-obsessed talking to a friend on the train.


Rust and Bone [DVD]
Rust and Bone [DVD]
Dvd ~ Marion Cotillard
Price: £10.42

4.0 out of 5 stars Powerful and haunting, 25 Feb 2013
This review is from: Rust and Bone [DVD] (DVD)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a potent, unsettling French-language film, focusing on the unlikely relationship between a woman who suffers an accident at the marine park where she works and a tough single father - a drifter who works in security and likes kickboxing. It's a gritty, heartfelt romance that flirts with cliche and contrivances but manages to be fresh and fearless. I enjoyed the central performances, especially Marion Cotillard. However, the film meanders a bit and could usefully be a quarter of an hour shorter. It's a slow burner, but manages to be visceral and mysterious as well as intimate and tender.


Sightseers [DVD] [2012]
Sightseers [DVD] [2012]
Dvd ~ Alice Lowe
Offered by comedyfactory
Price: £10.20

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dark and original, 24 Feb 2013
This review is from: Sightseers [DVD] [2012] (DVD)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
A genuinely original British film from director Ben Wheatley. I'd been intrigued by his previous film, Kill List, and Sightseers confirms that he's an unusual talent.

This is a film that starts off feeling like it might be a gentle romantic comedy and mutates into a kind of horror film, though always with a strong tinge of surrealism and absurdity. There are some great moments (I won't give anything away, as the element of surprise is important), and the performances by the two leads, who wrote the script, are really memorable.

It's a film with a very dark sensibility - certainly not for the squeamish - but recommended for people interested in an off-the-wall British film that could just become a cult movie in the vein of Withnail & I or perhaps Shallow Grave.


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