Book review: Expo 58 (Jonathan Coe)


Title: Expo 58
Author: Jonathan Coe
Page count: 264
Rating: 2/5

*this review is spoiler-free. If a spoiler did slip in, feel free to let me know and I`ll fix it as soon as I can 🙂 

Expo 58 is about Thomas Foley, an unassuming British servant who gets send off to the world expo in Brussels in 1958 to keep an eye on the pub in the British pavilion, the Britannica. Here he meets new people, questions his life in London, and ends up entangled in international conspiracy without really knowing it.

I picked up this book last week in a local bookstore, who only have a couple of shelves of English books. I was unsure whether to buy this one, or another book set in 60`s UK (I forgot the title, but the cover was very colourful and interesting-looking). But because this one promised both comedy and spies, and I was looking for something a bit happier, I picked this one.

In all honesty, I was a bit disappointed when I finished the book. Sure, there were some spies – some more obvious than others – and sure, there was some comedy. But overall I felt the book was really lacking. It was an enjoyable read, but not one I`m very likely to repeat.

First up: the enjoyable parts. I did like the bits of comedy that were there. The book has that very dry British sense of humour, and it was at times executed very well. It was a bit like reading an episode of Blackadder, although for me nothing`s going to beat Rowan Atkinson.

I also enjoyed the speed. The book has a nice tempo to it, it doesn`t really get too slow or too fast but stays fairly consistent at a good speed. Combined with the good descriptions, it really did read like I was watching television which is always something I like. Language wise it was an easy read too, especially after having just finished two books in older language.

It was also very well researched, and I actually feel like I know a lot of new historical facts now. Bonus points for that one.

Now, there are several things I didn`t like. For starters, no one in the book seems to have, you know, actual character. They`re all a bit flat, or they`re literally caricatures, but no one felt like a real living human being.

The story also switches direction quite a bit. Not by much, but enough to set you off. Thomas keeps being sent in a certain direction, just to have something pull him back and into a different direction, and while it doesn`t get confusing it does get annoying.  

And those spies? The comedy? Could`ve been more. Could`ve been way more.

To summarise this: enjoyable? Yeah. A recommendation for you guys? Eehhhh. Do I ever feel like rereading it or checking out related works? Nah.

Take this information as you wish.

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3 Responses to Book review: Expo 58 (Jonathan Coe)

  1. Pingback: (SORT-OF) MID YEAR BOOK REVIEW ROUND UP | Kojitmal

  2. Kim says:

    This one is on my “to-read” list as well…like you, I was hoping for lots of fun comedy and spy action!!

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