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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 11 months ago by K. J. Noyes

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4 of 4 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 7 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 500 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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4 of 4 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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3 of 3 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
(VINE VOICE)    (HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars ''We're all excited about Brussels'', 15 Aug 2013
By 
Purpleheart (UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Expo 58 (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
..is the title of the first chapter. The novel starts 'In a note dated 3 June 1954, the Belgian Ambassador in London conveyed an initiation to Her Majesty's Government of Great Britain: an invitation to take part in a New World's Fair which the Belgians were calling the 'Exposition Universelle et Internationale de Bruxelles 1958.'

The next paragraph tells us that it takes five months before the formal acceptance is presented to the Belgian Ambassador. The pace is that of the 1950s; what it means to be European is being defined and the 1960s informality hasn't yet emerged. The title of the opening paragraph is very Jonathan Coe - the juxtapostion of Brussels and excitement has its own humour, the setting of the Brussels World Fair of 1958, the first major international trade expo to take place after World War II is an intriguing one. We know that Coe is great on evoking the spirit of the times and an international fair can provide an insight into British post imperialism and the cold war as well as the emerging European union.

Coe's What a Carve Up! is one of my favourite books; a coruscating satire of 1980s Thatcherism, it built on the gothic horror film to both humorous and political effect. The Rotters' Club played with the genre of school stories as a microcosm and depicted the 1970s with nostalgia and some genuine feeling. Coe's set up is very promising and we are ready for a satire on Britain's attitude to Europe within the familiar mix of goofy gags and double entendre, together with an evocation of 1950s spy thrillers and Ealing comedies.

Our protagonist is Thomas Foley, a suburban civil servant in a lifeless marriage, sent from the Central Office of Information to oversee The Britannia, a theme-pub that is part of the British pavilion. His fidelity to wife Sylvia is soon tempted by an Expo hostess called Anneke, who is an attractive multi linguist without any of depth which Coe can bring to his female characters. Foley is essentially passive, a character to whom events occur, and we as the reader are nudged that there is more going on than he himself realises. We get that there is, but the thriller twists and turns don't quite work to build tension. There is humour, such as when secret agents Radford and Wayne quiz Thomas on 
his opinion of Stravinsky, Tolstoy and Prokofiev 
as a measure of his 
sympathy with Communism. However, the tonal shifts in the novel were disconcerting and meant that I didn't care enough about the characters to feel much.

I am a huge fan of Jonathan Coe but this novel doesn't deliver on its starting promise. I enjoyed it and it's well written, of course, but I failed to be fully engaged because the characters were essentially caricatures. Coe's mix of farce, intrigue, comedy and political satire has worked better elsewhere.
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4 of 4 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 100 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The life we choose to have, and to discard, 18 Feb 2014
By 
markr - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Expo 58 (Hardcover)
This is a wonderful book, full of light and shade, farce and sorrow. The writing and the story often made me smile, depicting so wonderfully the era with gentle humour - cold war spies, ordinary post war life in England, the beginnings of a new internationalism, and a new sense of Europe, and salt and shake crisps are all here. You can see it all in your minds eye as you read - even if you are drawing on old movies to do so

And, movingly, here too are the energies, beauty, naiveties and hopes of youth, and the consequences of the decisions we make when young which play out across our whole lives, and the loss that comes with the paths we did not choose when we made our decisions (not knowing) long ago.

Having read the last page I feel moved by the story and sad I that have finished the book - and thinking, thinking about the characters in the story, the choices we make and the life we chose not to have, and the life we had and have instead.

Just wonderful, and one of my favourite books of recent years
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not just lightweight fun, 14 Aug 2014
By 
M. READ (London) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Expo 58 (Kindle Edition)
It seems strange to call Coe an under-rated writer, but I think he is. Because of the ease and accessibility of his writing, and his humour, he seems to be viewed as lightweight. I notice even positive reviewers emphasise the retro delights of the story--and, yes, I take pleasure in the description of a world I dimly remember. But it's a work of real thematic depth and richness, full of social, political and moral themes, built on a plot that is both coherent and pleasingly twisty. Thomas Foley is an innocent abroad--at first sight a naive bumbler out of Evelyn Waugh or Tom Sharpe- and yet (without giving too much away) is not perhaps quite as innocent as he first seems--nor as bumbling. A metaphor for Britain, perhaps? (Interesting also that he represents a generation not often considered--the pre baby-boomers-- a truly transitional figure)

Plot, humour, thematic depth. What more do you want?
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4.0 out of 5 stars Clever and (very) funny, 9 Nov 2014
By 
Didier (Ghent, Belgium) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Expo 58 (Paperback)
Years ago I read 4 of Jonathan Coe's novels one after the other (having started with The House of Sleep which is still my favourite, though What a Carve Up! is incredibly good too), and then - for some reason or other - I lost sight of him until I saw this book in a shop window. Which I couldn't resist buying, for the simple reason that I am Belgian myself, so 'Expo 58' is - as to many Belgians I guess - an almost mythical event in a not too distant past, the traces of which are still visible today. In fact, I often get a glimpse of the Atomium on my way to work. Perhaps that makes me an impartial judge, but there you are...

In any case, I was hooked from page one and fond memories of other Coe-novels I had read earlier came back to mind: how he succeeds - as few others - to write about extraordinary events taking place in the lives of very ordinary people (could anyone be more 'ordinary' and average than his mild-mannered protagonist Thomas Foley?), but at the same time introducing the most quaint characters (such as detectives Mr Radford and Mr Wayne, what a pair!) but keep them credible too. There's no need of any 'willing suspension of disbelief here', on the contrary: I ended the book feeling 'something like this could happen to me too'. Between the beginning and the end of this unassuming but very clever novel you'll have laughed, but you'll have felt sad and melancholic as well. The writing is immaculate, the dialogues superb, and I for one will never look at the Atomium with the same eyes again!
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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 1958 - from the view of Thomas Foley, 16 Aug 2014
By 
YeahYeahNoh (Willenhall, West Midlands) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
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This review is from: Expo 58 (Kindle Edition)
Before reading this, indeed, before reaching the end, I hadn't realised Expo 58 was a real event, but it was so well described in the book that it didn't come as a surprise to find it was. The story is both mundane and interesting, typically Coe, reminding me of the feelings I go when I first read The Rotters Club. Having read the Loggerheads collection of short stories before this, I was also intrigued to spot the links to this, not hard, once you are primed for it.
Back to this book, it's full of great period detail - much of which is genuine, and contains some elements of intrigue, some love stories, or parts thereof, and elements of whimsy. The story is centred around Thomas Foley, married, with one child, and fairly junior in the COI (the bureau which produced the public information films, posters and brochures of the time). He gets to go Expo 58 after a link is found in his family to Belgium. He gets involved in some cold war intrigue, meets an attractive local hostess, and a host of other characters, all of whom shape a few months of his life during 1958, before he goes back home to married life, where other things have changed too. A genuine pleasure from start to finish, and a book I will go back to now I know the historical context is just that.
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Expo 58
Expo 58 by Jonathan Coe (Hardcover - 5 Sep 2013)
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