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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great period story and fascinating setting
I've never read any Jonathan Coe before, but was attracted by the unusual cover and the plot, and then thoroughly enjoyed reading this.

It really felt like 1958. Great period detail, could picture the clothes, the Expo, the attitudes.

In a World Fair year, Brussels is playing host to 'Expo 58', a large-scale international fair and show that offers...
Published 16 months ago by K. J. Noyes

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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fun read with an unusual premise, but not up to Coe's old standards
I'm a big fan of Jonathan Coe's early books, What a Carve Up, and the Rotters Club/The Closed Circle. I've read his more recent releases eagerly and have tended to enjoy them but feel a bit underwhelmed, so I picked this up with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Would this be back to Coe's earlier standard?

The subject of this novel is an unusual one - a...
Published 12 months ago by Georgiana89


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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great period story and fascinating setting, 6 Jan. 2014
By 
K. J. Noyes "Katy Noyes" (Derbyshire, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Expo 58 (Hardcover)
I've never read any Jonathan Coe before, but was attracted by the unusual cover and the plot, and then thoroughly enjoyed reading this.

It really felt like 1958. Great period detail, could picture the clothes, the Expo, the attitudes.

In a World Fair year, Brussels is playing host to 'Expo 58', a large-scale international fair and show that offers countries chance to demonstrate (and show off in a time of Cold War) their technological and cultural prowess.

Part of Britain's exhibit is a pub, and with little time to finish preparations, lowly copywriter Thomas Foley is drafted in to supervise the pub exhibit, leaving behind his new wife and baby daughter.

The story follows his life in Brussels, as he embraces bachelor life, meets a charming young Expo hostess, manoeuvres his way through possible (Cold War) spy scenarios and tries to decide if his married life is really the life he wants.

I really felt for the wife, Sylvia, left at home 'holding the baby', with no choice but to let her husband leave her to the mundane chores of home, reading his occasional letters and reason between the lines. It felt like a realistic portrait of domestic life of the 1950s housewife.

The office scenes were funny, Thomas's superiors comic creations that pop up with requests that grow increasingly more intrusive and morally unsound.

Thomas is sometimes unsympathetic (especially if you sympathise strongly with Sylvia) but is at heart a good man, and his adventures are great to follow. The Expo is a wonderful setting and one I can almost picture.

A great period piece, and I loved the fact that we see past the Expo into Thomas's later life as he lives with the choices he made. Very moving.

Definitely makes me want to read more by the author - this is witty, full of detail and a great story about choices, responsibility and Salt 'n Shake pub snacks.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a very enjoyable light comedy, 5 Dec. 2013
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This review is from: Expo 58 (Hardcover)
This novel breathes the atmosphere of the 1950s; and probably to a degree of the Ealing Comedies of that time in terms of the behaviour of the characters and the broad sweep of the comedy - the two spies who behave like Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, the atmosphere in which people dress formally and address one another formally at work and at play, and the whole idea of a World Fair to help nations get along and look forward to the future all belong to a different era.

As I became accustomed to the ambience, I grew to like and enjoy this book more and more. It in fact manages to touch on the human condition (it cuts quite deeply into the character and behaviour of the main protagonist at various points and indeed towards the end) as well as to gently amuse and to keep the reader (this reader anyway) in suspense until the denouement of the plot. So I was quite impressed...
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fun read with an unusual premise, but not up to Coe's old standards, 29 May 2014
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This review is from: Expo 58 (Kindle Edition)
I'm a big fan of Jonathan Coe's early books, What a Carve Up, and the Rotters Club/The Closed Circle. I've read his more recent releases eagerly and have tended to enjoy them but feel a bit underwhelmed, so I picked this up with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Would this be back to Coe's earlier standard?

The subject of this novel is an unusual one - a 1950s low-ranking Civil Servant, and the 1958 "Expo" held in Belgium. As a modern-day Government employee, the differences and the similarities between the main character's day job and mine made me smile. The world of the 1950s was beautifully recreated, and treated with a similar mix of fond nostalgia and cool-headed scrutiny. The knowing references (such as the woman encouraged to smoke during pregnancy as it's such a stressful time) were occasionally a little heavy-handed, but generally made me giggle. Coe is one of the few genuinely literary authors who can really do humour well.

Although the world of the civil service was a broadly familiar one to me, then the Expo was something completely new. I've seen pictures of the Atomium building that formed it's centrepiece, but didn't really know what it was, and had never heard of the titular event where countries from around the world came together for the first time since WW2. And now, I feel I know everything about it, from the opening speech to the design of each pavilion. Coe certainly seems to have done his research. It was fascinating to find out about this obscure piece of history. At the same time, the themes of European integration or separation, and conflict between Russia and the US seem oddly relevant to today's world.

The plot has two main strands. In one, the main character is torn between his humdrum life at home and the glamour of the Expo, between England and Europe/America, between the past and the future, and more practically, between his suburban stay-at-home wife and a charming Expo hostess.

The other is a slightly odd spy story, which works from the premise that instead of a suave James Bond type figure, it's an ordinary lower-middle class man who gets caught up in an international plot featuring kidnappings and seductions and nuclear technology. The slightly far-fetched turn that things take manage to be oddly believable, and the main character is fundamentally likeable and relateable, despite a decisions that are questionable from the standpoint of both morals and sense. The references to Ian Fleming's books, which both the hero and the two actual spies have read but struggle to relate too were hilarious.

The worst thing about the book was the ending. No spoilers, but suddenly rushed ahead to the present day, felt unnecessary maudlin and cast a bit of a shadow over everything that had gone before. It didn't add much to the story and wasn't that clever. Coe pulled a similar "clever cop-out" ending in Maxwell Sims - give me a sad ending, give me a happy ending, do anything but skirt the issue.

To answer my opening question, I thought this books this was funny, enjoyable and a bit different. As you'd expect from the author, it was well-written and flowed nicely and it was definitely better than Maxwell Sims. Equally though, unlike some of his earlier books, which have lingered in my mind for years - both the one-liners and the profound moments - I never felt really wowwed, never thought of it as more than just a bit of easily-forgotten fun.

So it's worth a read, whether you're a fan or just like the premise and want something different. It's just not wildly memorable or up with the author's best.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Self contained social history, 12 Jan. 2014
By 
Janie U (Kings Cliffe, England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Expo 58 (Hardcover)
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Thomas Foley is an embodiment to the 1950s. He is restrained and conservative but there is much more under the surface where he has passions, plans and suspicions. Thomas has been sent by the UK government to Belgium to help oversee a part of the Expo 58 and gets involved in a small way with international espionage.
This author seems to select his characters very careful in all his books and, here, they each show some part of society at the time - Thomas's wife Sylvia is at home minding the baby - his love interest Anneke is a modern career woman - there are also plenty of upper class government types - even Thomas himself is used to show the potential which was to come to life in the 1960s. Some characters are more believable than others but all seem to fit in the style of the book.
Littered as the book is with period references (eg mentions of unsubstantiated rumours that smoking is not good for you) but at no time does the 1950s setting overwhelm the story.
Generally the book is written in the third person but there is one section of letters between Thomas and his wife. I felt that this vehicle could have been used more. It was a snapshot of a few weeks but worked very well and may have given depth to a plot which does occasionally seem a little thin.
The atmosphere of the fair setup comes over well. It is claustrophobic and manages to create the feel of a theme park for adults, which I suspect is what it was, where unexpected things can happen. The park is brittle, temporary and, most importantly, fake, all of which make the people involved behave in ways they would not normally.
Somehow the combination of plot, characters and style portray the balance of suspicion and naivety which was the 1959s.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Catches the mood of the times....., 18 Sept. 2013
By 
Wynne Kelly "Kellydoll" (Coventry, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Expo 58 (Hardcover)
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Thomas Foley, a somewhat naïve civil servant working for the Central Office for Information, is sent to Brussels to oversee the British exhibit at Expo 58. The centrepiece is the Britannia Pub - a replica of the iconic British institution. His qualifications for this task are that his mother was born in Belgium and his father was once a publican! The Cold War is at its height and it soon appears that some nations may be using the Expo as a cover for more clandestine operations. Thomas is not quite aware of what is going on around him. He is too distracted with the attractive young females he meets. He has some guilt about the wife and baby he has left at home - but not too much.

This is a gentle story told with old-fashioned English humour. Soon Thomas realises that everyone is playing a part. Is his room-mate Tony a jolly chappy with liberal tendencies or a potential defector? Is Chersky a good natured journo or a KGB agent? And the beautiful Emily - is she an actress (as she claims) or an actress playing the part of an actress or a spy? Just as the people may turn out to be fake, everything about the Expo is fake....

There are two wonderful characters - Wayne and Radford (names straight out of The Lady Vanishes) who appear in the most likely places to coax and cajole Thomas.

It very much catches the mood of the times. The smoking references were so apt: "....he had agreed that she could smoke while she was pregnant. It was a stressful time for a woman and smoking did help her to relax." How attitudes have changed!

This is very much an entertainment rather than one of Jonathan Coe's more serious works. It is a fun read and produces smiles and knowing nods rather than guffaws.

Highly enjoyable.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Not Coe at his best..., 21 July 2014
By 
Amanda Jenkinson "MandyJ" (Cheltenham) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Expo 58 (Kindle Edition)
This is a “quite” book. It’s quite amusing, with a quite interesting and intricate plot, with some quite clever characterisation, some quite astute comments on the British Establishment, with some quite funny one-liners and a quite skilful tying-up of all the threads at the end. But I’ve come to expect more than that from Jonathan Coe and was quite disappointed with this his latest novel.
The book is set in 1958 at the Brussels World’s Fair. Unassuming and somewhat naïve civil servant Thomas Foley is seconded to Expo 58 to keep an eye on the British side of things, to make sure all goes well. It’s not long before he is embroiled in some rather farcical superpower rivalry and machinations, in which he always seems to be one step behind what is actually happening.
It’s quite enjoyable on the whole. The humour and satire is fairly mild but often astute, and if some of the characters are little more than stereotypes, well that’s excusable in a light-weight novel - I don’t think it pretends to any great profundity. But Coe is capable of far more incisive writing than this, and his humour can be so much more biting. Yes, I enjoyed it, but it certainly doesn’t compare with some of his earlier works, and I hope that his next offering will see him back on form.
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5.0 out of 5 stars In a word: Fabulous!, 18 Nov. 2013
By 
G. J. Oxley "Gaz" (Tyne & Wear, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Expo 58 (Hardcover)
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Set at Expo 58 (basically a world fair) in Brussels at a time when the cold war was positively sub-zero, our fine British writer Jonathan Coe's latest novel 'Expo 58' features civil servant, Thomas Foley, in Belgium on a secondment.

He's left his wife, Sylvia and their baby daughter back home in Tooting, and in Brussels he meets Anneke, his fair hostess. Thomas has been given the task of watching out for The Brittania, a new pub which is part of Britain's presentation at the fair. And just to add to the mix, the Belgians have placed the American and Russians adjacent to one another - with The Brittania close by.

To say any more might spoil it for you, so I'll content myself with saying this 'sort-of' thriller has many humourous moments, is well-written, satirical where it needs to be, and in a marketplace awash with fiction, is easily worth spending a few quid on: you really get your money's worth.

There are quite a few plot strands dangling at the end, but Coe ties them up and pulls off his satisfying conclusion brilliantly, so much so that I almost felt like cheering at his audacity!

Simply a great read and marvellous entertainment: this book has got it all.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Expo 58, 14 Dec. 2013
By 
Keen Reader "lhendry4" (Auckland, New Zealand) - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Expo 58 (Hardcover)
Thomas Foley is a quiet man, working industriously in his role at the Central Office of Information in Baker Street. When he is seconded to be `the man on the spot' at the British Exhibition at the World's Fair in Belgium in 1958 because his mother is Belgian and his father ran a pub (a pivotal fixture at the British Exhibition), he is a bit dumbfounded. Particularly as he has a wife and a new baby.

This is the first book by this author that I have read, and I had no real idea what to expect; it was the premise of the book which caught my attention initially. I thoroughly enjoyed this book; it had wit, humour, sadness, and captured in a delightfully off-kilter way a slice of life of 1958 that I never knew anything about. The main character Thomas is a man who seems always slightly out of focus with the rest of the world, and the surprises that he finds in his new temporary life in Belgium are wonderfully laid out for the reader. Definitely recommended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars more retro than smoking in pubs, 4 Jan. 2014
By 
David Spanswick (Brighton United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Expo 58 (Hardcover)
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A delicious confection set in post war Britain and Belgium with intrigue, double entendres and the ultimate Englishman as the Innocent abroad. The influences of Greene and Fleming are apparent with a whiff of Amis and a dash of Pym.

This new novel by Jonathan Coe has his characteristic humour and his writing style is spot on for the decade that basically invented itself as it went along. Set in and around the Belgian Expo of 1958 the historical references are well researched without appearing to obviously so and the "bad guys" are superb comic book characters.

Highly recommended for readers of books that take them on a journey, safely, returning them to their armchairs and fireside
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fun, Entertaining Read, 27 May 2013
By 
M. Dowden (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Expo 58 (Hardcover)
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I must admit that this is only the second Jonathan Coe novel I have ever read, the other being 'The Rain Before it Falls'. What I feel in all honesty I should immediately point out that whilst writing this the publisher is currently touting this as some sort of comedy thriller. I would have to disagree with classing this as a thriller, this is a spy caper as such and in the main is quite comical.

Thomas Foley, who works for the Central Office of Information is given a chance to go abroad to Brussels, and be part of the team at Expo 58. His job is one that isn't that particularly onerous, the British theme pub at the event is owned and being run by a brewery, but it is thought that it is probably better if a civil servant is on hand in case of any problems. Deciding to leave his wife and baby daughter at home, Foley plans to do the stint at the Expo by himself. Even before he has started though he finds himself being approached by the Security Services and interviewed.

Thus the story is very funny, Foley naive and really a man all abroad, getting caught up in the world of the Spooks and women, and this works well. Where this starts to unravel though is the latter part. The novel tries to become something a bit more serious, which jars with what has gone before, and as he thus becomes more worldly as it were it is then disconcerting to see him just as naive as at the beginning.

Although this has quite a poignant ending it is ultimately let down due to the more serious latter parts. If this had been just kept as a comedy it would have been that bit better. A fun, and entertaining read this isn't as good as it could have been. It is perfectly okay to sit down and relax with, but don't expect any thriller as such, this is an undemanding read that should entertain you alright, and make you laugh.
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Expo 58
Expo 58 by Jonathan Coe (Hardcover - 5 Sept. 2013)
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