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VINE VOICEon 10 May 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Coe is probably best known for The Rotters’ Club and What a Carve Up!, his satires of life in 1970s Britain and the Thatcher years respectively. He describes Expo 58 however as ‘not really a satire but a comedy. I love the classic light comedy films of the 1930s and 40s and wanted to do something delicate like that…rather than hammering things home.’

Set against the backdrop of the 1958 World Fair – the ‘Exposition Universelle et Internationale de Bruxelles’ – Expo 58 is set during the ‘last days of British embarrassedness and uptightness’. Thomas Foley,an unassuming 32-year old civil servant at the Central Office of Information, is propelled from Tooting and into a six-month stay in Brussels. He must oversee the British exhibits at the Fair, centred upon a replica pub called The Britannia, which has a barmaid called Shirley Knott. Close by, in a ‘Belgian joke’, the Russian and American pavilions at the Fair are placed almost adjacent to one another, and as a result of this Cold War in microcosm, he becomes enmeshed in a farcical case of espionage.

Jonathan Coe is one of my favourite authors and I loved every minute of this. He displays that deft lightness of touch for which he is famous and get me amused throughout.
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on 8 November 2013
I thoroughly enjoyed this. It reminds me strongly of Graham Greene's "Our Man in Havana", but it's much more cheerful. It has the innocent abroad, Foley, sent from his job in government PR to help run the Britannia pub at the Belgian world fair, Expo 58. He leaves his wife and child behind, and the series of increasingly passive-aggressive letters exchanged between him and his wife had me laughing so much I had to put the book down. He ends up caught between conflicting superpowers, and struggling to maintain his marriage, and the book is an object lesson in how major events hinge on one small, apparently insignificant item.

There are many affectionate tributes to the films of Hitchcock, including the two gentlemen on a train, who in the films have almost the role of the Greek chorus, to comment on the action. Here, they're oddly reminiscent of Hergé's Thompson and Thomson, the bowler-hatted gents who follow Tintin around, but who are at the same time much more sinister. The ending, in common with the very best spy story endings, has you leafing back to the earlier parts to re-read and re-appraise the parts you thought you'd understood. Ingenious and amusing (and based on a real pub).
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on 28 October 2014
Mr Pastry; Smith's crisps with a small bag of salt; “From Russia with Love”; Sputnik : for anyone who grew up in the 50s and 60s, “Expo 58” evokes a time when post-war modernity was just about with us, even if life in Tooting (the home of Thomas and Sylvia Foley) but in most other places, too, was still predominantly grey. The Brussels' World's Fair of 1958, Expo 58, was an attempt to usher in the future, symbolised by the giant Atomium.

The importance of the Expo to the group of characters comes across well, particularly Thomas Foley, who is woken up to a wider world by the temporary city that is built in Brussels. To his surprise, he is seconded from his work at the Central Office of Information and his nondescript home life to perform a role for Britain at Expo. The tensions of the Cold War are present, though not in the foreground as in a spy novel; mostly, “Expo 58” is a novel of awakening. And, besides, this is a comic novel, a genre that Coe inhabits very effectively in some of his earlier novels of the Blair years. This doesn’t prevent the ending being quite poignant.
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VINE VOICEon 10 September 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
For those who don't know, EXPO 58, also known as the Brussels World's Fair, was the first major World's Fair after World War II - held in 1958, as the name suggests. The site was best known for the Atomium, a giant model of a unit cell of an iron crystal (each sphere representing an atom). It is the setting of Jonathan Coe's novel of the same name, a curious and very likeable comic novel the builds on his past works like What a Carve Up! and The Rotters' Club in that it presents a comic treatment of the idiosyncrasies of British life, at home and abroad. This time it's a comedy that doubles as a thriller - no mean feat. Our protagonist is Thomas Foley, lowly English civil servant; the classic Englishman abroad, tasked with monitoring The Britannia, the replica pub that is the centrepiece of this fictionalised account of the British pavilion at the Fair. (To explain: the Soviet and American pavilions adjacent to each other, not far from the Britannia.) Cue hilarious capers with multiple nods to Hitchcock and Ealing comedies. Funny and very involving. Excellent.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Mr. Coe has previously written novels about the social and political climate of the 1960s and 1970s, and now its the 1950s turn, with this gentle comedy which knowingly channels Ealing Studios movies, Hitchcock, Graham Greene and other iconic popular culture of the era into the tale of Thomas Foley, a civil servant lifted out of suburban tedium when he is chosen to run Britain's contribution to the 1958 Expo in Brussels. High jinks ensue as our hapless hero gets involved with espionage and exotic ladies.

Some reviewers have dismissed this 50s pastiche as as too fluffy, but I think what Mr. Coe is doing is contrasting the escapist pop culture of the period with the grim reality of life in the post war era, , and given this the book reveals a more serious purpose. For myself, I enjoyed it just as much as I have all of his other, both as an an excellent pastiche of British culture of the era and a serious look at what we have gained and lost as a nation since then. Recommended.
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on 16 October 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is actually the first novel by Coe I've read, so I wasn't coming to this with any particular expectation of the writing.

Anyway, this is fun. It follows Thomas, a lowly government functionary who is sent to work at the 1958 Expo in Brussels, due to some family experience with pubs and his mother's family background.

The background to the novel, therefore, is one of cold war competition and intrigue. This is handled by Coe well and with no little humour. This aspect of the novel promises to open into something larger and never quite does; apart from anything else, the book is probably a little too short for that. However, where I think it is at its most satisfying is when dealing with the relationships between Thomas, his wife and the various people he meets at the Expo.

So, if you're looking for a dense cold war thriller, this isn't it. If, however, you would like something fun, well written and humourous form this time, I recommend this highly.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I've been a huge fan of Jonathan Coe since "The Rotters Club" was first published, and since then I've devoured the rest of his work, including the excellent biographies he's written. His last couple of books, "The Rain Before it Falls" and "The Terrible Privacy Of Maxwell Sim" were both good but not great, and I was hoping that "Expo 58" would see a return to his usual excellent form. Sadly this wasn't to be the case.

The book opens with Thomas Foley, a handsome civil servant, being given the task of running a pub at the 1958 world fair in Brussels. Soon after arriving he finds that the organizers have put the Russian and American stands next to each other, so there are suspicious characters all around, particularly two individuals who keep popping up to talk to Thomas, his telephone at home tapped, and so on.

Sadly there's not a great deal more to it. Unlike Coe's previous novels there isn't a strong story here, so I found I laboured through the book, seemingly taking an age to finish it and finding it a rather dull read. It was clearly something of a labour of love for Coe, judging by the lengthy list of acknowledgements and references at the back, and while admittedly packed with detail on the Expo and the surrounding area it is short on plot. The characters all felt very one-dimensional, the dialogue - usually a strength of his writing - felt very stilted, and unlike some of the other reviewers I didn't find anything remotely witty in the story, aside from an exchange near the end of the book which reminded me of the "candle with the handle" / "gateau from the chateau" scene in "'Allo 'Allo".

The final chapter, where Coe wraps up the events after the Expo, was probably the strongest for me, but for the most part read like a list of events rather than a narrative, although the final scene was touching. Aside from those few pages though this felt like an endless, joyless, aimless book, and as a fan of Coe's work this was an immense disappointment.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I really did not enjoy this book. I really wanted to like it, having read some enjoyable interviews with Jonathan Coe as he set out to promote it, and I was quite fascinated by the idea of this international exposition and the late fifties setting over which the author has clearly taken some considerable care.

However for me, the whole thing just clunked and heaved like a car whose clutch is on the brink of collapse. I found the main character bizarre and the supporting characters fairly flaky too. i don't really want to go on about it too much as I almost feel guilty for not having enjoyed it; I can see that Coe is a charming, intelligent writer much-admired by other readers I get on with! Who is in the wrong?

It's not even as if I don't like comic fiction (on which he wrote a very interesting non-fiction piece in the Guardian around publication date!). I worship at the altar of PG Wodehouse, love a bit of English humour writing and I just read Christmas at High Rising: A Virago Modern Classic (VMC) which made snot come out my nose i laughed so much. I just didn't like this. Sigh.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 28 February 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Expo 58 written by Jonathan Coe for me was a great read as we follow the main character namely Thomas Foley when he is sent to open a British pub in Brussels due to the Expo of 1958. This for me was mainly a good read due to the comic element plus the very detailed period detail. The main character Thomas Foley was great and from page one I have to say he kept me entertained as he was introduced into the life of a spy, but poor Thomas will never be the next James Bond.
For me if you want a book which is rich in detail, filled with humour and historical facts this is the book for you and I know for one I will be reading more books by Jonathan Coe as he has a brilliant gift for story telling and keeping his audience entertained.
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on 12 January 2014
Big fan of Coe, with What a Carve Up one of my favourite novels of the last twenty odd years. Expo 58 doesn't realy match the standards set so early in his career. Whilst admittedly evoking time, place and language beautifully, the story itself seemed to end just as it was really beginning to unfold, and I felt a little disappointed on completion. The Secret Service double act conjured up images of Herge's Thompson Twins, and I found them quite ludicrous. It seems we are asked to judge whether Thomas made the right choice by following his mother's advice rather than following the pull of his heartstrings, and I suppose my disappointment lies in the fact that I felt he made the wrong choice.
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