Readers of William Boyd’s new novel Waiting for Sunrise had best be prepared to play amateur detective because this one is filled with enough twists, turns, false leads, hints, and clues to make anyone’s head spin. Best of all, it is both an admirable piece of historical fiction and a whole lot of fun.
We first meet British actor Lysander Rief in 1913 Vienna, to which he has temporarily relocated in order to be treated by a Sigmund Freud disciple with an office only a short distance from the master himself. Although Lysander’s psychoanalyst has modified some of Freud’s methods, he proves to be particularly adept at “curing” the sex-related problem that Lysander brings him – so successful, in fact, that Lysander, while still in treatment, initiates a torrid affair with a married woman he first meets in the doctor’s waiting room.
The affair will end badly, forever changing the lives of Lysander and Hetty Bull, his lover. One will flee Vienna barely a step ahead of the law; the other will still be in Vienna as the ugliness of World War I begins. One will be forced by British intelligence to take on the role of soldier/spy, a spy in search of a traitor who is costing thousands of British lives by leaking intelligence to the enemy. The other continues the tortured and destructive life that made analysis necessary in the first place. Unfortunately for both, their paths will cross again in London.
Waiting for Sunrise is long on atmosphere and character development. Boyd builds his main characters (in particular Lysander, Bull, and Lysander’s mother) gradually, layer by layer, until the reader comes to know them as well from their innermost thoughts as from their actions. If, as is often said, literary fiction tends to focus more on style and the emotional depth of characters than on plot, Waiting for Sunrise handily qualifies as such. This is not to say, however, that the book has no plot, because Boyd’s intricate and rewarding plot, if it is to be followed, demands the reader’s full attention from first page to last.
Lysander’s pursuit of the mole inside British intelligence will leave him second-guessing everything he thinks he knows about himself and his own background. When he becomes suspicious of those closest to him, he begins to wonder if he is just a player in someone else’s spy game, but this game could end up having more disastrous consequences for Lysander than for the man he pursues.
Rated at: 4.0