London, 1958: unassuming civil servant Thomas Foley is plucked from his desk job and sent on a six-month trip to Brussels. His task: to keep an eye on The Britannia, a brand new pub which will form the heart of the British presence at Expo 58 – the biggest World’s Fair of the century. As soon as he arrives, Thomas is equally bewitched by the surreal, gigantic Atomium, which stands at the heart of this brave new world, and by Anneke, a lovely Flemish hostess. But Thomas’s new-found sense of freedom comes at a price: two British spies are following him.
Schrijver: Jonathan Coe
Titel: Expo 58
Uitgeverij: Viking (GB)
Mijn mening: 3 sterren
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Over het verhaal
Thomas was a quiet man. That was his distinguishing feature. He worked at the Central Office of Information on Baker Street, and behind his back, his colleagues sometimes referred to him as ‘Gandhi’ because there were days when it was believed that he had taken a vow of silence. At the same time, and also behind his back, some of the secretaries had been heard to call him ‘Gary’ because he reminded them of Gary Cooper while a rival faction knew him as ‘Dirk’ on account of a closer resemblance, in their eyes to Dirk Bogarde. It could be agreed, at any rate, that Thomas was handsome, but he would have been astonished if anyone had ever told him this and, once in possession of the knowledge, he would have had no idea what to do with it. Gentleness and humility were the qualities which first struck people upon meeting him and it was only later (if at all) that they would begin to suspect a certain selfassurance, bordering on arrogance, lying beneath them. In the meantime, he was most often described as a ‘decent sort’ and ’the unassuming, dependable type.’
Thomas is een rustige onopvallende man. Hij werkt bij Central Office of Information (COI). Dit bedrijf heeft de verantwoordelijkheid gekregen voor de inhoud van het Britse Paviljoen voor Expo 58. Deze wereldtentoonstelling wordt in 1958 in Brussel gehouden. De COI moet de vraag beantwoorden hoe het is om Brits te zijn in 1958. Het antwoord hierop wil Groot-Brittannië laten zien in het Britse Paviljoen. Thomas wordt gevraagd om naar Brussel te gaan om dit project te leiden. Hij moet dit nog wel met zijn vrouw Sylvia overleggen.
‘So, really’, she had said – at last beginning to see the thing clearly, as pudding was dished up and she poured condensed milk over her slender portion of apple pie – ‘it’s a great honour that Mr Cooke has singled you out in this way. He didn’t ask any of the others. And you’ll be rubbing shoulders with people from all sorts of places: Belgians, French – even Americans…’ And Thomas had realized, when she said this, that from one point of view Sylvia was actually willing him to go, already: that in her eyes, painful though the separation would be for both of them, he would grow in stature from this experience. No longer a mere government pen-pusher, he would become, for six short months, something much more interesting and indeed glamorous: a player (however small) on the international stage. The idea appealed to her – even titillated her. And perhaps it was the knowledge, more than anything else, that lightened his step that Tuesday afternoon, and added a few imaginary inches to his height as he strode across the footbridge towards Birdcage Walk. He felt a sudden, unexpected kinship with London’s seagulls as they swooped low over the water beneath him, revelling in the freedom of flight.
Thomas heeft een paar dagen om zich voor te bereiden op zijn reis naar Brussel. Op een dag wordt hij aangesproken door twee mannen in pak (Mr. Wayne en Mr. Radford). Ze nodigen hem uit voor een drankje en stellen veel vragen. Waarom zijn deze mannen zo geïnteresseerd in zijn werk voor de COI en zijn reis naar Brussel? Ze geven geen antwoord op zijn vragen.
Als Thomas in Brussel is neemt hij een taxi naar de locatie van de Expo.
They took another left, and drove straight up the Avenue de l’Atomium. And this time, when he saw the celebrated structure in all its shimmering, eerie magnificence, getting larger and larger as they approached. Thomas felt his heart swell with awe and excitement, and the full import of the adventure he was embarked upon started to strike home. The previous Sunday he had been pouring sherry for his wife and mother in Tooting, the overture to an endless family lunch in which nothing of note had been said, nothing of interest had happened. Even then, he had begun to feel himself driven almost to distraction by the smug quietude of that deathly suburb, the overwhelming sense of indifference towards the great events that were taking place out in the wider world. But now, only four days later, he had already been drawn by some miracle into the very epicentre of these events. Here, for the next six months, would be thrown together all the nations whose complex relationships, whose conflicts and alliances, whose fraught, tangled histories had shaped and would continue to shape the destiny of mankind. And this briljant folly was at the heart of it: a gigantic latticework of spheres, interconnected, imperishable, each one emblematic of that tiny mysterious unit which man had so recently learned how to divide, with consequences both alarming and wonderful: the atom. The very sight of it set his heart pounding.
Thomas heeft zin in zijn werk voor Expo 58. Hoe zullen ze het Britse Paviljoen in richten? Wat voor mensen zal hij ontmoeten? Wordt Expo 58 een succes?
Ik vond het een fascinerend en grappig verhaal. Dit verhaal is niet zo grappig als The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Slim.