Most helpful positive review
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Great period story and fascinating setting
on 6 January 2014
I've never read any Jonathan Coe before, but was attracted by the unusual cover and the plot, and then thoroughly enjoyed reading this.
It really felt like 1958. Great period detail, could picture the clothes, the Expo, the attitudes.
In a World Fair year, Brussels is playing host to 'Expo 58', a large-scale international fair and show that offers countries chance to demonstrate (and show off in a time of Cold War) their technological and cultural prowess.
Part of Britain's exhibit is a pub, and with little time to finish preparations, lowly copywriter Thomas Foley is drafted in to supervise the pub exhibit, leaving behind his new wife and baby daughter.
The story follows his life in Brussels, as he embraces bachelor life, meets a charming young Expo hostess, manoeuvres his way through possible (Cold War) spy scenarios and tries to decide if his married life is really the life he wants.
I really felt for the wife, Sylvia, left at home 'holding the baby', with no choice but to let her husband leave her to the mundane chores of home, reading his occasional letters and reason between the lines. It felt like a realistic portrait of domestic life of the 1950s housewife.
The office scenes were funny, Thomas's superiors comic creations that pop up with requests that grow increasingly more intrusive and morally unsound.
Thomas is sometimes unsympathetic (especially if you sympathise strongly with Sylvia) but is at heart a good man, and his adventures are great to follow. The Expo is a wonderful setting and one I can almost picture.
A great period piece, and I loved the fact that we see past the Expo into Thomas's later life as he lives with the choices he made. Very moving.
Definitely makes me want to read more by the author - this is witty, full of detail and a great story about choices, responsibility and Salt 'n Shake pub snacks.