It makes a change to have a spy thriller set in Vienna around the turn of the first world war and William Boyd gets to grips with this one very well. In fact, if you hadn't read the blurb, you might be thinking this was a rather lame love affair doomed to failure thanks to the up and coming horror of the war.
But Lysander Rief, there's a name and a half, up-and-coming actor is drawn into the spying game little by little and he turns out to be rather good at it. Whilst trying to sort out his psychological problems with a colleague of Freud in Vienna, he is asked to obtain the code in order to break secret messages emanating from the UK and finishing up where they shouldn't be! He does this with such aplomb that, despite a near death situation, he is then rehabilitated to London, his personal problems resolved and so the fun begins.
The author weaves an excellent spy chase from this point. Rief's earlier contacts catch up with him, he finds himself investigating a spy who may well be more closely connected that he would wish and those around him each appear to be the possible suspect. The ending is odd. To explain it gives away too much information but there we are. I enjoyed the book. The atmosphere in Austria and in London is excellently described especially given the fast approaching circumstances. The inclusion of a Zeppelin adds a little flavour to the mix and the storyline makes you turn the pages. Whether or not there is room for a follow-on remains to be seen but the main protagonist is a character who could be developed for future forays into the spying world, after all, who better than an actor to confuse the enemy.
on 12 March 2013
I was delighted to find a new book by William Boyd, having really loved Any Human Heart, and re-read Restless after the TV dramatization. However, I was disappointed. It lacks the pace and tautness of the previous books. At times it suspends belief too much. Rather than being a spy story with amorous adventures, it is sex, real or fantasied, with spying on the side. The colour and descriptions are, as always, well portrayed giving an excellent feel of the time, but somehow the characters don't solidify, they're flat and laboured. The final denouement is too neat and too many questions are left unanswered. To my mind, the book is definitely below par.
In his novel Restless, William Boyd pulled off the difficult trick of marrying a tense wartime thriller with an affecting study of a daughter coming to terms with the knowledge that her mother is not the person she thought she knew. The result was a book that had the compulsive appeal of a commercial page-turner with the satisfying emotional depth of the literary fiction Boyd is known for. In his latest title, Waiting For Sunrise, he attempts the same feat - sadly, the results this time are less successful, and it adds up to a disappointing and disjointed whole.
The main problem with Waiting For Sunrise is it appears to be two disparate novels cobbled together. It begins in pre-WWI Vienna as we follow a young English actor, Lysander Rief, who has come to seek a cure for a debilitating sexual problem through psychoanalysis. During his stay he meets a free-spirited sculptor, Hettie Bull, and they begin an intense affair which apparently cures his 'problem'. All seems to be going well when Lysander suddenly finds himself in serious trouble and has to return to England. From that point the novel morphs into an espionage thriller, with Lysander pressured into assisting the War Office with breaking a secret code and unmasking a traitor.
In fact, both these plot strands are gripping, up to a point; we get a fascinating glimpse of pre-war Europe, an insight into psychoanalysis and a passionate love story in the first section, while the spy story is genuinely thrilling for the most part, with plot twists galore and almost every supporting character coming under suspicion. It even begins to seem that these two halves of the story may be connected after all, and I was enjoying the book a great deal...until the last few chapters. I don't want to spoil the book for others so I won't go into too much detail, but I can't remember the last time I felt such a crushing sense of anticlimax upon finishing a novel as I did here. His last book, Ordinary Thunderstorms, suffered from a similarly disappointing finale.
Let me make it clear: firstly, I understand that Boyd is making a point about how we can never really know the truth about other people or even the world itself - all we have are our own perceptions to rely upon - I get that. Secondly, I have no problem with ambiguous endings; in fact, too neat a finish can be highly unconvincing, and I often enjoy books that leave questions unanswered. The problem here is that for the 200 or so pages preceding the damp squib of an ending, we have been encouraged into a state of high tension, with mystery piled upon mystery clearly building to an exciting denouement that never arrives. It also becomes clear at the close of the story that the two halves of the book had almost no connection to each other - so what was the point of including both?
This is the sixth novel by William Boyd I've read; I greatly admire his gift for combining intelligent, well-written prose with superb storytelling - but this is the second time in a row that I've felt let down by his plot simply fizzling out at its climax. It's such a shame - right until the final pages I was hooked by Waiting For Sunrise - four stars at least, I thought. Instead I closed the book feeling it had been a disjointed, unsatisfying read, two stars at best. A great pity.
This is a highly readable novel which will keep you turning pages into the night...The story focuses around the character of Lysander Rief, a young English actor who is drawn by events into the world of wartime spies. Opening in 1913, in Vienna, shortly before the outbreak of war, the story is driven along by the chance meeting, and subsequent tempestuous relationship, of Lysander, and a young English sculptress. Arrested for a crime he did not commit, Lysander finds the consequences taking over his life, taking him deeper and deeper into a chain of events in which nothing is quite what it seems.
As always with William Boyd, this is superbly crafted fiction, beautifully written, and compulsive reading
Superb - highly recommended
With "Waiting For Sunrise", William Boyd distils three decades of storytelling skills into another very fine novel indeed. He seems most comfortable writing about the early years of the twentieth century, and the book is based on events happening between 1913 - 1915, first in pre-war Vienna, and then in the early years of World War One.
Lysander Rief, a young actor, carries the story well. He's an engaging character, not unlike many other of Boyd's male creations, in that he is buffeted by events and tries to make sense of them as the story unfolds. Indeed, the random nature of life, our place in it and our changing sense of identity are themes very much at the centre of this fast-paced novel, that at times reads like a thriller.
Occasionally, the sweep of the book seems to find Boyd losing his way in the narrative; some of the plot seems to meander a little at times and, enjoyable though this is in terms of the writing skills on display, leaves you wondering just where this is all heading.
The book seems uncertain of itself in places, whether it's more literary novel than thriller - and ends up being a combination of both, which overall works well. The end of one era (pre-World War 1) and the dawn of a new, darker age in which to live - is conveyed well, but the strands of the plot are pulled together a little rapidly in a conclusion that feels a bit rushed.
All that said, the book is a wonderful page-turner, with characters, events and sense of time and place being real strong points. Boyd enthusiasts will probably welcome this seeming return to form after the slight disappointment of "Ordinary Thunderstorms." 60 this year, Boyd thankfully shows no signs of running out of ideas - and this is one of his strongest novels for a few years. Recommended - and thoroughly enjoyable.
on 18 April 2014
This novel comes with standard high praise for Boyd. But I agree fully with the other one star reviewers. Not to repeat what’s already been said, take as an example a passage close to the end of the novel. Boyd's hero ruminates: 'Everything solved, explained. But as the day wore on other questions nagged at me, troubled me and set me thinking again, until by dusk all was confusion once more. Maybe this is what life is like - we try to see clearly but what we see is never clear and is never going to be. The more we strive the murkier it becomes. All we are left with are approximations, nuances, multitudes of plausible explanations.' Really? Nothing is elaborated that justifies these banalities. Everything has been cleared up by the end, the traitor has been fingered.
Boyd does have the material for a murky story: early on he has a character develop a theory of ’parallel lives’, a theory that would allowed him to raise doubt about who the good guys were, if any, and if the right traitor was caught. But it does not happen: the plot aims for clarity and closure. The quoted passage and the final rumblings about the hero being a man who prefers darkness and shadows come off as an unearned flourish. There is no open ending in which everything loses certainty.
On top of that the settings of the novel, Vienna and London, to say nothing of a brief episode in no-man’s-land between trenches, come off as very thin wikipedia background.
This is a slick book aimed at BBC’s period drama department.
on 19 April 2012
The plot: Lysander Rief is an actor with a sexual problem who goes to Vienna for a cure shortly before the start of WWI. He escapes from the police following a stitch-up by his lover, with the help of British agents. These agents subsequently recruit him as a spy to discover who is passing war secrets to the Germans.
This was, like all William Boyd books, hugely enjoyable, but there was something missing. It was more like a parody of a William Boyd, and I felt that he had dashed it off one weekend for a laugh. This won't stop me from avidly awaiting his next book, but I have to say that it definitely wasn't one of his best.
on 5 July 2012
The chapters set there have terrific pace,convincing characters and great style. Then our hero comes home and oh dear. It's all very well for the reader to wonder what's going on but when the hero repeatedly asks the same question, you get the impression that the author has no idea either and doesn't care much. Even the style goes downhill as the book limps to its end, which is a shame because it could have been wonderful. But it's still worth buying for the first third, which is up with the best of the Boyd novels I've read.
on 1 October 2014
This is a very uneven book with exciting and tautly written passages interspersed with lengthy drawn out lacuna s of prose exploring, amongst other subjects, the relationship between mother and son, which leads on to a lengthy, and boring treatise on the hero's treatment on a Viennese couch.
Some of the characters such as his Uncle' and his 'friend' are neither interesting in themselves or even as potential red herrings
Many characters such as the various characters who are 'on our side are hard to distinguish from each other. also, i may have missed something but I do not understand fully what his Mother's motivation was
But, there are still scenes which show all the Boyd writing skill and there is an undeniable tension as to how it will all be resolved.
Perhaps I was reading it and expecting too much but at any level, I found it a rather tame and contrived spy story.
on 12 March 2012
The only negative about this new William Boyd book is that it takes no time at all to read and then you have another two years or so to wait for another one.
Waiting for Sunrise, which took me about a week to consume, is vintage Boyd and doesn't disappoint. It's a thrilling spy thriller with a human story, which starts in Vienna before the outbreak of the First World War in late 1913, and ends in London about two years later.
The main protagonist is a handsome actor, Lysander Rief, who decides to go to Vienna to seek a cure for a complaint which is preventing him from marrying his actress fiance, Blanche. But as the weeks turn into months, the young Englishman gets entangled in much more than The River of Sex, which one of his newly found friends at the guest house tells him runs below the surface of the respectable Viennese society; or parallelism, the cure his doctor has prescribed to Lysander.
Having escaped back to London, in 1914 as war breaks out Lysander, in a moment of madness, enlists and briefly becomes a private in the army. He serves at an interment camp near Swansea, where the army makes use of his German language skills. But he's soon transferred to another department for some more interesting duties, a dangerous commission he is unable to refuse.
With his new duties, Lysander Rief's life becomes increasingly unpredictable and dangerous. He feels like a puppet controlled by strings, held by unknown people. He's sent to Geneva on a mission, and barely surviving it, begins to mistrust everyone around him.
As the story weaves between Vienna, Geneva and London, the reader, just as Lysander, is unsure who's speaking the truth and who's lying. Who is sincere and who is acting. 'We all act all the time', Blanche says at one point.
In spite of its impeccable credentials as a fast moving, well plotted spy thriller, Boyd's latest novel is also a study into the human condition. (He just can't help himself) At the very beginning of the book Lysander consults a psychiatrist; as a result throughout the book he reflects on his own emotions through a diary he has titled, 'Autobiographical Investigations'. This is a very fine tool for a writer - as well as telling the story from a third person point of view, Boyd is also able to let his reader into the innermost thoughts of the protagonist, without it seeming forced. The diary also makes the frequent sex scenes more realistic than a third person narrative would have done. Brilliant.
Another of William Boyd's many talents as a writer lies in his ability to immerse the reader into the world he has created so completely, that the world outside - the real world the readers resides in - doesn't seem to matter. He takes you into a turn-of-the-century cesspit of espionage. He places his protagonist in unreal, wonderful situations with - say - a femme fatale, or a passionate madwoman. He eggs the reader on, not letting you rest until the story is finished.
Boyd's characters in Waiting for Sunrise are so skilfully drawn, that you feel as if you've lost a couple of friends, few enemies and several unpleasant acquaintances when the book comes to an end.
Yes, I'm in mourning for the world in Waiting for Sunrise. Let's hope Boyd is working hard on a new story...