Vienna, 1913. Lysander Rief, a young English actor, walks through the city to his first appointment with the eminent psychiatrist Dr Bensimon. Sitting in the waiting room he is anxiously pondering the particularly intimate nature of his neurosis when a young woman enters. She is clearly in distress, but Lysander is immediately drawn to her intense beauty. Back in London, 1914. War is imminent, and events in Vienna have caught up with Lysander in the most damaging way. Unable to live an ordinary life, he is plunged into the dangerous theatre of wartime intelligence – where lines of truth and deception blur with every waking day. Lysander must now discover the key to a secret code which is threatening Britain’s safety, and use all his skills to keep the murky world of suspicion and betrayal from invading every corner of his life. Moving from Vienna to London’s West End, from the battlefields of France to hotel rooms in Geneva, Waiting for Sunrise is a plot-twisting thriller and a literary tour de force.
Not my words. I first read a short story collection by William Boyd. A friend lent it to me on holiday and all I could tell you now is that it featured a lot of sex. I really enjoyed Any Human Heart and Restless very much. Stories that have stuck with me and which struck a chord somewhere. I also read Ordinary Thunderstorms a while ago but couldn’t tell you anything about it now. A nothing of a book.
And that is kind of how I feel about Waiting for Sunrise. I know I won’t remember much about it in a few weeks’ time. Yes, it sets a nice scene but that’s about it. It’s not a bad book, but nor is it a good one. Africa, Vienna and spy type activity seem to be Boyd’s main interests, but few times does he mange to get things exactly right.
What is it this story meant to be? Is it a spy novel? If it is, it needs an editor to chop about a third of it and speed things up. The Vienna section is ponderous and slow. You could get to the point and introduce the necessary elements in much quicker time than Boyd does, introducing us to characters and situations that don’t need to be here. If it’s a ‘literary tour de force’ you could remove a load of the second half of the novel and just set the thing in a Vienna on the brink of war. Referencing Freud (an unnecessary meeting), obscure operas and the streets Rief walks without needing a spy by numbers story
If we wish to follow the blurbs focus, it doesn’t work. Things he could touch on, he lingers over. Things he could linger over, he touches upon. Many characters come and go, most of them not needed. The main ‘romance’ really adds nothing. The spy element is muddled and too much is crammed in for my liking. Was he under pressure to deliver a novel to the publishers?
It isn’t a bad story. The places and period are vivid and well imagined. But this is a tale that you can’t really warm to. One that feels unfinished and rushed.
I can’t say I liked it. Nor can I say I hated it. Again, like Ordinary Thunderstorms it’s a story I’m sure I’ll forget the details of quite quickly. Still, it passed the time well enough.