As I spend more time online, I’m starting to discover books that I might never have discovered had I relied solely on more traditional sources like print media, word of mouth and the public library. One such book that came to my attention thanks to the wonders of the Internet is Jonathan Coe’s Expo 58: A Novel. I first leaned of Coe’s novel last summer, when an icon of it popped up on Goodreads, probably in response to a search I did for The Zhivago Affair. Since the 2014 novel is set in Brussels, Belgium during the 1958 World’s Fair, I figured it might serve as a suitable book for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge. However, with a towering stack of library books piled at the side of my bed I wasn’t in a big hurry to add another book to the mix. But as well all know, the European Reading Challenge has a funny way of inspiring me. So about a month or so ago I placed a reserve on Expo 58 through my public library and waited for my chance to read it. And when it became available I pushed everything else aside and dived into it. After breezing through it in what felt like mere days I’m glad I took a chance on a novel that from aside seeing briefly mentioned on Goodreads, I knew very little about.
Expo 58 tells the story of Thomas Foley, a public relations man for the British government who finds himself assigned to his nation’s pavilion at the Brussels World’s Fair. Chosen to oversee the pavilion’s working replica of an authentic British pub because Foley’s late father was a pub-owner and his mother is of Belgian heritage, he reluctantly accepts the assignment knowing by doing so he’ll spend the next six months away from his wife and their infant daughter. But after being visited several times by representatives of Britain’s intelligence services he wonders if there’s more to his new posting than he’s officially been told. On top of things, he’s begins to see his new posting as welcomed respite to a marriage that might not be as fulfilling as he’d like it to be. And if that couldn’t complicate things enough, immediately upon his arrival in Belgium, Foley’s finds himself attracted to a beautiful, young Belgian hostess who apparently feels the same way about him. Then there’s the charming Soviet “journalist” with movie star looks who keeps dropping by the pub asking questions, buying drinks and romancing the pretty young American spokesmodel who demonstrates modern vacuum cleaners over at the US pavilion.
Expo 58 is very enjoyable novel. It’s written so well it reads almost effortlessly. I found it charmingly British, yet never stuffy. It’s a spy novel, but with comic and romantic elements. It’s a clever book too, with no shortage of mystery and intrigue. And like any good story, there’s a bit of sadness and sense of loss thrown in for good measure.
I’m happy to report say that Expo 58: A Novel is a lot of fun and thus easy for me to recommend. I’m also happy to report that last week, while grocery shopping I encountered a brewery representative dispensing samples. I soon learned that much to my surprise, Ninkasi Brewing has released a new Belgian-style ale named, appropriately Expo 58. What a marvelous pairing this beer must make with the novel of the same name.