Rebecca's Reviews > Expo 58

Expo 58 by Jonathan Coe
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bookshelves: laugh-out-loud, reviewed-we-love-this-book, anglophiles-delight

In Jonathan Coe’s uproarious tenth novel, a quiet government pencil-pusher stumbles into the realm of international espionage during the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair.

Thomas Foley is an unassuming fellow: aged 32, he lives in Tooting with his wife and baby and has a low-level job in the Central Office of Information. Everything changes when he’s chosen to oversee creation of the Britannia pub for Expo 58. Leaving his family behind for the six months of the fair, Thomas embarks on a dizzying adventure, trailed by shadowy secret service agents monitoring his allegiance.

Overshadowed by modern architectural marvel the Atomium and sandwiched uncomfortably between the Soviet and American displays, the Britannia pub bravely flies the flag for all things British. Yet behind the Expo’s façade of international cooperation and progress – “so busy, so modern, shimmering with life and promise” – lies a microcosm of rivalry, propaganda and mistrust. Like an anti-James Bond, Thomas fumbles his way through US-Russia diplomacy and awkward would-be seductions, wondering if his staid suburban life will still await him on his return.

With trademark light-heartedness, Coe depicts the 1950s as a golden age of innovation and glamour. (Also a time of innocence – he exploits the irony that his characters are just about to learn the dangers of smoking.) Expo 58 recalls Julian Barnes’s England, England, with its search for quintessential Englishness, while the riotous dialogue and absurd situations also bring to mind Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop and Graham Greene’s spy satire Our Man in Havana. A breezy, charming and very funny read.
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Reading Progress

July 9, 2013 – Shelved as: to-read
July 9, 2013 – Shelved
August 6, 2013 – Started Reading
August 9, 2013 – Finished Reading
August 17, 2013 – Shelved as: laugh-out-loud
September 11, 2013 – Shelved as: reviewed-we-love-this-book
October 1, 2013 – Shelved as: anglophiles-delight

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