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Ten great books set in Brussels

11th July 2021

Brussels is the latest destination in our ‘Great books set in…’ series. Ten great books set in Brussels. Historic yet hip, bureaucratic yet bizarre, self-confident yet unshowy, Brussels is multicultural to its roots. The cityscape swings from majestic to quirky to rundown and back again. Art deco facades face off against 1960s concrete developments, and regal 19th-century mansions contrast with the shimmering glass of the EU’s Gotham City. This whole maelstrom swirls out from Brussels’ medieval core, where the Grand Place is surely one of the world’s most beautiful squares.

‘Waffles with melted chocolate and strawberries – life doesn’t get much better than that!’

Ten great books set in BrusselsSilent Saturday by Helen Grant

Seventeen-year-old Veerle is bored with life in suburban Brussels. But a chance encounter with a hidden society, whose members illegally break into unoccupied buildings around the city, soon opens up a whole new world of excitement – and danger.

When one of the society’s founding members disappears, Veerle suspects foul play. But nothing can prepare her for the horror that is about to unfold when an old foe emerges from the shadows… No one is safe, and The Hunter will strike again..

Expo 58 by Jonathan Coe

London, 1958: unassuming civil servant Thomas Foley is plucked from his desk at the Central Office of Information 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, and the first to be held since the Second World War.

As soon as he arrives at the site, Thomas feels that he has escaped a repressed, backward-looking country and fallen headlong into an era of modernity and optimism. He is equally bewitched by the surreal, gigantic Atomium, which stands at the heart of this brave new world, and by Anneke, the lovely Flemish hostess who meets him off his plane. But Thomas’s new-found sense of freedom comes at a price: the Cold War is at its height, the mischievous Belgians have placed the American and Soviet pavilions right next to each other – and why is he being followed everywhere by two mysterious emissaries of the British Secret Service? Expo 58 may represent a glittering future, both for Europe and for Thomas himself, but he will soon be forced to decide where his public and private loyalties really lie.

Ten great books set in BrusselsThe Capital by Robert Menasse

Brussels. A hive of tragic heroes, manipulative losers, involuntary accomplices. No wonder the European Commission is keen to improve its image.

The fiftieth anniversary of the European Commission approaches, and the Directorate-General for Culture is tasked with organising an appropriate celebration. When Fenia Xenopoulou’s assistant comes up with a plan to put Auschwitz at the very centre of the jubilee, she is delighted. But she has neglected to take the other E.U. institutions into account.

Meanwhile the city is on the lookout for a runaway pig. And what about the farmers who take to the streets to protest against restrictions blocking the export of pigs to China?

The Capital is a brilliantly entertaining satire, a crime story, a comedy of manners . . . and a wild pig chase. It tells the tale of a continent, a city and its inhabitants as they navigate their way through the confusing tangle of 21st-century life.

Diplomacy by Zahra Owens

Jack Christensen has everything he ever wanted. He’s a rising star in US Diplomacy, the youngest man to have been appointed as an Ambassador of the United States. A career diplomat who’s just been sent to a politically interesting Embassy in Europe, he has the perfect wife, speaks five languages and has all the right credentials, yet there’s something missing and he doesn’t quite know what.

Then Lucas Carlton walks into an Embassy reception and introduces himself and his American fiancée. From the first handshake, the young Englishman makes an impression on Jack that leaves him confused and uncharacteristically insecure. Lucas’ position as the British liaison to the American Embassy means they are forced to work together closely and they have a hard time denying the attraction between them, despite their current relationships.

When their women decide to go on a weekend trip together, Jack and Lucas start a passionate relationship, which continues long after their partners return. Diplomatic circles are notoriously conservative though, and they each know that the right woman by their side makes a very significant contribution to their success. Will they be able to make the right choices in their professional and personal lives? Or will they need to sacrifice one for the other?

High as the Heavens by Kate Breslin

In 1917, Evelyn Marche is just one of many women who has been widowed by the war. A British nurse trapped in German-occupied Brussels, she spends her days working at a hospital and her nights as a waitress in her aunt and uncle’s cafE. Eve also has a carefully guarded secret keeping her in constant danger: She’s a spy working for a Belgian resistance group in league with the British Secret Service.

When a British plane crashes in Brussels Park, Eve is the first to reach the downed plane and is shocked to discover she recognizes the badly injured pilot. British RFC Captain Simon Forrester is now a prisoner of war, and Eve knows he could be shot as a spy at any time. She risks her own life to hide him from the Germans, but as the danger mounts and the secrets between them grow, their chance of survival looks grim. And even if they do make it out alive, the truth of what lies between them may be more than any love can overcome.

Ten great books set in BrusselsSlightly Sinful by Mary Balogh

Meet the Bedwyns–six brothers and sisters–men and women of passion and privilege, daring and sensuality….Enter their dazzling world of high society and breathtaking seduction…where each will seek love, fight temptation, and court scandal…and where Alleyne Bedwyn, the passionate middle son, is cut off from his past–only to find his future with a sinfully beautiful woman he will risk everything to love.

As the fires of war raged around him, Lord Alleyne Bedwyn was thrown from his horse and left for dead–only to awaken in the bedchamber of a ladies’ brothel. Suddenly the dark, handsome diplomat has no memory of who he is or how he got there–yet of one thing he is certain: The angel who nurses him back to health is the woman he vows to make his own. But like him, Rachel York is not who she seems. A lovely young woman caught up in a desperate circumstance, she must devise a scheme to regain her stolen fortune. The dashing soldier she rescued from near-death could be her savior in disguise. There is just one condition: she must pose as his wife–a masquerade that will embroil them in a sinful scandal, where a man and a woman court impropriety with each daring step…with every taboo kiss that can turn passionate strangers into the truest of lovers.

The Car Share by Zoe Brisby

A ninety-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s and a heartbroken young man end up sharing a ride to Brussels that changes their lives forever.

When Alex pulls up to meet “Max”, he expects everything but a ninety-year-old lady who has her heart set on getting to Brussels by carpool.
As for ‘Max’, who is actually called Maxine, she could not be more ill at ease when settling into the seat next to this young man with bloodshot eyes. God help her if he turned out to be a drug addict who hasn’t slept in days!

When it becomes clear that Maxine is suffering from Alzheimer’s and wants to take matters in her own hands while she still can, and that Alex battles severe depression, a wonderful friendship starts to form between the unlikely pair. Before long, their travel plans take an unexpected turn…

The Last Waltz by Dorothy Mack

When her gambling father dies, young Adrienne Castle must find a way to support her family.

In desperation, she visits a gaming house in disguise, intent on winning back some of her father’s lost fortune using her skill at cards.

But when her brother falls ill and her luck runs out, Adrienne is forced to seek the aid of a wealthy distant cousin, Lord Dominic Creighton.

With a beautiful fiancée and a promising military career, Dominic has everything he could wish for and, to her surprise, Adrienne finds him generous and warm-hearted.

Despite her poverty and lack of experience in respectable society, Dominic tries to make her feel comfortable in his world.

And as their bond grows, it seems that Adrienne is in danger of staking her heart on a man who is already in love with another…

The Resolute Runaway by Charlotte Louise Dolan

Knowing the risk of running away to find a new life, Joanna heads for Brussels, where young ladies are fair game for officers looking for love before facing the foe at Waterloo. When Joanna meets the heir to a dukedom, the only thing she has left to offer him is her heart.

Under the Poppy by Kathe Koja

From a wartime brothel to the intricate high society of 1870s Brussels, Under the Poppy is a breakout novel of childhood friends, a love triangle, puppetmasters, and reluctant spies.

Under the Poppy is a brothel owned by Decca and Rupert. Decca is in love with Rupert, but he in turn is in love with her brother, Istvan. When Istvan comes to town, louche puppet troupe in tow, the lines of their age-old desires intersect against a backdrop of approaching war. Hearts are broken when old betrayals and new alliances – not just their own – take shape, as the townsmen seek refuge from the onslaught of history by watching the girls of the Poppy cavort onstage with Istvan’s naughty puppets . . .

Under the Poppy is a vivid, sexy, historical novel that zips along like the best guilty pleasure.

Nominated for the IMPAC Award. Winner of the Gaylactic Spectrum Award

These are ten of our favourite books set in Brussels. Add more in the Comments below…

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A story in which the location plays as important a role as the rest of your words.

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