I love William Boyd, I have done so since I read Brazzaville Beachmany, many years ago. So I was excited when I saw that he had a new novel out and looked forward to reading it. While reading Waiting for Sunrise, though, I kept feeling as though I was waiting to get lost in the pages and the plot like I have with others of his, yet it never happened.
Not that I didn’t enjoy it. It is a good story, a thriller, with all the right elements, set in Vienna and London during World War One. Lysander Rief (how’s that for a great name?) – a relatively successful actor – goes to Vienna in search of a cure for his impotency through the new radical science called psychology. He’s sees a Freudian doctor, Dr Bensimon, and in his waiting room meets a strangely appealing woman called Hettie Ball.
Rather predictably, Lysander falls for Hettie and starts an affair with her (his impotency immediately cured). Yet one day he is arrested on the charge of rape. Hettie has fallen pregnant by him and, rather than confess to her husband about her affair, she accuses Lysander of raping him. He flees Vienna with the help of the British embassy, and returns to London.
Once there, he gets recruited by those who helped him escape Vienna, and becomes a British spy. He has to discover who is leaking information to the Germans from the British Intelligence section and, in doing so, becomes involved in intrigue, sex, lies, other spies. He does all this while still acting and falling back in love with this fiancée (she was the one who encountered his impotency).
My problem with the book is that I could not imagine Lysander being a spy. In fact, I could hardly imagine him being anything other than a good-looking actor. It seemed quite inconceivable to me that he could torture someone for information, or betray men on the battlefield. The characters were one-dimensional. Hettie never came alive in my mind – all I could ever see in my mind was someone with short legs (for some reason). Lysander’s mother seemed to be scarily attractive for a woman her age and, sadly for Lysander, becomes pivotal in the spying scandal. The only character I really liked was his gay uncle.
Yet I don’t want to put anyone off reading it, because it is a good thriller, it is well-written and a page-turner. It just didn’t do it for me in the way that a William Boyd usually does. I think I had high expectations and, when they weren’t quite met, I was more disappointed than I would have been had an unknown author written it.
- Meet Boyd, William Boyd (thedailybeast.com)
- ‘Waiting for Sunrise’ asks: What happened in pre-WWI Vienna? (seattletimes.nwsource.com)