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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.
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VINE VOICETOP 500 REVIEWERon 4 August 2015
When young actor Lysander Rief consults an eminent psychiatrist in pre-WW1 Vienna about a problem, Dr Bensimon introduces him to the concept of parallelism. A technique developed by the good doctor himself, the idea is to identify the event at the root of a problem and then to invent an alternative history of the event, embellishing and repeating it until it feels like a truer memory than the thing that actually happened. And this book feels like an exercise in parallelism itself – a hazy, shimmering story that seems just a little unreal, a little off-kilter. As Lysander gets sucked into the shadowy world of spies and espionage, it all feels like a bit of a game – an adventure. And despite some dark moments, it continues to feel like that all the way through, as if Lysander is playing a role in one of the great spy thrillers of the past. There are scenes that reminded me of The Third Man, with shadowy figures hiding in alleyways, and the characters, with the exception of Lysander himself, feel like representations of fictional 'types' rather than real people – the mysterious femme fatale, the traitor, the manipulative spymaster, etc.

Lysander's little problem is of course sexual, arising from an excruciatingly embarrassing (but very funny) episode in his youth. Encouraged by Dr Bensimon, he keeps a journal which forms part of the narrative, allowing the reader to see the world through his eyes. Coincidentally, it's at Dr Bensimon's office that he first meets Hettie, the woman who will firstly help cure his problem, and then be instrumental in creating the situation that later forces him into the world of spying. And coincidentally, the man who will be his spymaster also first meets Lysander in the doctor's waiting room. All of these coincidences, and the many others that follow, are hardly coincidental though. Even Lysander begins to wonder eventually why everyone he meets seems to be something other than they appear at first sight.

The book is about deception, self-deception and lies. And that deception extends to the reader too. There are elements of the plot that are almost farcical in their unlikeliness, and dark moments that are glossed over with such subtle humour that sometimes it takes a moment or two to decide just how seriously they should be taken. Looking at reviews of the book tells me some people have taken it completely seriously and are therefore complaining about credibility issues, especially with the ending. And they may be right. But my perception of the whole thing is that it's a frothy construct, a parallel to the truly dark stories of wartime espionage, something imagined to shape the world in the way that Lysander wants. Having learned from Dr Bensimon how to obliterate unpleasant truths from his mind, it seems to me that the book extends this idea – so, bad things happen but Lysander, and the reader, choose not to dwell on them. It feels as if a false memory is being created as the reader watches, and to a degree the reader has to agree to be complicit in its creation.

As always with Boyd, the writing is eminently readable – smooth, flowing, neither forced nor artificial, but with a lovely use of language. There is a lot about sex in the book, but it's not at all graphic or icky (yes, I still haven't got those scenes in Birdsong out of my head) – instead it takes the route of gentle mockery, highlighting the more ridiculous side of the act. Lysander is a great character, self-absorbed, self-deceiving, but fundamentally a good guy with a too-trusting nature and a kind of relaxed, go where the wind blows him attitude that makes him a pleasure to spend time with. Boyd is rarely laugh out loud funny, but I love the way he keeps a layer of gentle humour simmering beneath the surface, lightening the tone and keeping the reader slightly off-balance. He's one of those authors who can be off-form from time to time, but when he's on form, as he is in this one, there are few writers I enjoy more. Highly recommended.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 18 November 2014
I found the book impossible to put down. Prior to the conclusion of the Cold War, spy fiction was very much the oeuvre of my choice and I would readily devour the works of writers like Len Deighton. However, I've always felt that the genre began to loose it's edge and appeal with the collapse of the USSR and was in urgent need of being made more relevant. Iain McEwan's recent "Sweet tooth" tried to cleverly subvert the spy novel by rendering espionage as something more mundane but the novel's cunning denouement made this a bit too strange and not up to the author's usual standard. By contrast, William Boyd's "Waiting for sunrise" transfers the action to the early years of World War One where the enemy isn't necessarily the Germans but a host of shady spy and artistic types all of whom seem deeply unreliable and untrustworthy.

This is the first book by William Boyd I have read and the principle character Lysander Reif's early comment about not being familiar with Greek mythology made me realise that there was going to be something about his account of events that was to fully that could not be trusted. Set just prior to the commencement of the First world War, the book can be seen as part thriller, part puzzle and part chronicle of the changing social and cultural conditions brought about by the conflict.

The author has populated this novel with a multitude of damaged and eccentric characters all of whom seemed less than honest, I was hooked by this book from the very beginning. Roughly divided in to three sections concerning Vienna, Western Front / Switzerland and England, each successive part ends on a climax. The story becomes increasingly complicated and convoluted with the different protagonists all seemingly being less than honest as the novel progresses. The first section puts all the components of the complex plot in place and as Reif's fate starts to rest in the hands of a couple of handlers. Coupled with Dr, Bensimon's encouragement to access his theory of parallelism and our knowledge that Reif is an actor, Boyd cleverly constructs a plot whereby the principle character is possibly an unreliable witness and then make this even more compelling by ensuring that the accounts of the other characters are possibly no more reliable. By the time the third section is underway, all the characters seem to be connected with each other with the plot going in to over-drive to identify who is the source of all the leaks concerning the logistics of the next Allied offensive.

This is the first book by William Boyd I have read. What I liked about it was that it was well written and also extremely well constructed. The tension is ratcheted up as the plot reaches it's conclusion and whilst the novel does reach a resolution, Boyd has constructed this in such a fashion that it is by no means clear just how many of the deductions that lead to this are true. I think that the use of red herrings are a well used device in the writing of thrillers but Boyd's craftsmanship in building up layer upon later of conceit take this to such a level that the actual truths may , in fact, be in the minority and lost amongst the web of lies. Some elements of the story are not resolved (what was Munro's serious problem divulged by Munro, for example?) and I wasn't 100% convinced that the fruit of Rief and Hettie's liaison actually existed. That said, the actual components of the subterfuge do neatly resolve themselves with even insignificant elements described within the opening sections proving relevant.

In summary, if any book breaths fresh life into the spy novel it is this effort. This book was a real page-turner and I will definitely be reading more novels by this writer. Recommended.
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on 17 June 2014
I realised as I was reading this that it was almost exactly a century after the book is set which added an interesting poignancy on top of what is already a very well told story.
We see a glimpse into how Vienna might have felt immediately before the Great War, yet although that war features as a backdrop to the latter part of the book this is not one of those war novels where we see the clouds forming and are drawn into the full horrors of the war. It is a story of love, obsession and adventure from the view of one man. I have heard Boyd's style described as "Buchan meets le Carré" and a lot of that applies here, we have the fast paced adventure of Buchan and the murky world of intelligence like le Carré but the writing is deep than Buchan's and less dense than le Carré's. Unlike either author Boyd can convey a sense of place and the feelings of passion and sexual obsession to a much greater degree.
Other reviewers here have commented about the ending - it is not trite, it was not a "twist" in the plot but nor was it what I was expecting. I felt it was perfect for the character we have got to know through the story and if that requires the readers to bring their own intelligence to it all the better.
I did find some flaws in the book but they are minor - perhaps at times the characters and language felt just a little too modern for the period and perhaps a few of the adventure passages were a little too "Buchan" with too easy escapes from peril.
All in all though I definitely recommend this book.
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on 24 August 2013
Waiting for Sunrise is a detailed character study of Lysander Rief -- an actor from a wealthy background who holds a dark secret that casts a neurotic shadow over his life. In seeking to rid himself of the shadow he gets drawn into an affair and pulled into the orbit of the intelligence services. Both provide replacement shadows that haunt him and need resolution, and the story is essentially his journey to come to terms with his neuroses and find a steady and secure path. That journey, however, is complex and dangerous, both in Vienna prior to the Great War and during the war itself. Boyd fills Rief's world with an interesting set of characters and social situations, and there is a strong sense of social history and place. The prose is evocative and the plot unfolds in a steady, unhurried pace, and is nicely balanced with a subtle sense of intrigue. And yet, for some reason, I wasn't entirely convinced or captivated by the story; it seemed to lack something that left it a bit hollow -- a mix of direction, tension, urgency, a lead character one identified with or rooted for as opposed to simply viewing, I think. Overall, then, an enjoyable, atmospheric read that lacked an edge.
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on 1 October 2012
In Waiting For Sunrise William Boyd returns to his very best form. The novel's central character is Lysander Rief, an individual every bit as intriguing as a Mountstuart or a Todd. Rief is an actor with an English father and an Austrian mother. He was brought up in England, but his German is passable and improves, and his French is not bad. He also possesses a few exclamations in Italian, we learn.

At the outset, we find him in Austria just before the outbreak of the First World War. Initially, the impending conflict does not seem to figure but, rest assured, no self-respecting novelist could let such momentous events pass without comment. The War does in fact become the principal theatre for the plot. Initially, however, Lysander Rief is visiting Vienna for purposes of consultation. He has taken time out from his professional life to seek help with a slight problem. Like so many of William Boyd's males, situations arose when one day Lysander was caught with his trousers down. Readers of William Boyd's novels will appreciate that his male characters are rarely backward at coming forward when trouser dropping is on the agenda. Lysander's particular circumstances, however, offer some surprising perspectives on the practice.

Early on he meets Hettie Bull, a petite English sculptor with a common law artist partner. She has a few problems of her own, it seems, though these seem hard to pin down. He also meets a couple of relative smoothies from the British Embassy who are destined to figure significantly in subsequent events. They offer what might be described as professional assistance when needs arise. Lysander finds himself in a few pickles whose solutions depend on external input, and eventually quite a number of other challenges that originate from that initial input of assistance. His unconventional departure from Vienna leaves him in debt.

The First World War breaks out and Lysander enlists. There soon proves to have been some spice in the Viennese pickle, spice that got Lysander noticed. Assignments materialise and offers are made that cannot be refused. There is a need for special training, but even these new skills might prove no match for the challenges posed by an attractive widow in Switzerland.

Lysander needs a while to overcome the after effects of his experience Geneva. At first it seems that the case is complete, but there are more questions to be raised, questions of contacts closer to home, questions that urgently need answers. These lead to another task, an assignment that generates even more complications. And who would have thought that the libretto of a risqué opera would have caused such a stir? Surely this was no more than an illustration of Vienna's peculiar mix of decadence and eroticism at the turn of the twentieth century. Surely? This was a city, Lysander was told, beneath which ran an incessant, fast-flowing river of sex. And which city might not?

When William Boyd is in this superb form, the plot seems to race past with surprises at every turn. But what it never does is appear in episodic form, via scenes that apparently materialise merely to move the story along. Throughout, Waiting For Sunrise is beautifully constructed and integrated, with several aspects of the action experienced, interpreted and then retold to be reinterpreted, perhaps differently, before anything comes clear - if anything ever does. The reader feel that events are really developing through the characters eyes and experience, and never feels that these people are mere cut-outs being flashed across a miniature stage.

William Boyd's speciality must be his treatment of people like Lysander Rief, talented men whose self-assurance is significant but internally denied, whose earthy frailties, given half a chance, usually get the better of their highly developed but easily suppressed powers of reflection. Lysander Rief, when such a trousers down moment is in prospect himself reflected on this, "and noted how the promise of unlimited sensual pleasure blotted out all rational, cautious advice that he might equally have given himself." Rief surely has fellow travellers in Mountstuart or a Todd. For Lysander, there is a fiancé called Blanche, Hettie the sculptor, a comely wench in a guesthouse, a captivatingly unattainable widow in Geneva and several dancing girls along the way, not to mention an alluring mother. The here and now always demands the total attention of such characters.

Considerations of style also separate William Boyd's work from the mere story teller. Not only does he pepper his text with references and allusions to the historical and philosophical, he also requires the reader to change point of view. These characters inhabit the real world we, ourselves, share. They do not live in a made-up fantasy that seems to exist as a vehicle for the writer's imaginings. And, by various devices, all of which make sense in the context of the book's plot and revelation, we encounter Lysander Rief both from within and without, as both a first and a third person. We read about him, and we also read his own reflections on himself and the events that befall him.

Spying, espionage and intrigue during the First World War, these are at the heart of Waiting For Sunrise, and it is the plot that drives the narrative. But this plot is much more than a string of events. The only way to experience everything is in context, to join Lysander Rief on his journey of discovery. Perhaps, by the end, you will know him a little better. Perhaps.
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on 21 July 2013
One of those books I just didn't want to end but couldn't put down until I finished it.

William Boyd is a brilliant story teller. He has a real knack of pulling you in, embroiling you in his world, and making you desperate to know what happens next. He also paints a brilliantly evocative picture of that world, so that you really do feel you're there. This time, it was the pivotal years immediately before the Great War in 1913 to 1915 when the war had fundamentally changed the world (or those parts of it involved) forever.

Lysander Rief (Boyd always has such brilliant names, Logan Mountstuart is still one of my favourites) an actor, and a bit of a dissolute one at that. He's in Vienna seeking a cure to a sexual problem when he gets caught up, like so many of Boyd's characters, in a chain of events that send him headlong into a series of 'adventures' just exactly as if he'd been in a film. Lysander copes remarkably well, partly because he's able to look at some of the worst episodes as if they weren't real, and despite some pretty horrific incidents (I will never look at a metal pot scrubber in the sae light again) you can't help but find him endearing. Boyd's lightness of touch, as always, makes it possible to laugh at the worst parts, and it's only later that the darkness of what you've just read hits you.

Similarly with Lysander. As the book progresses (and I daren't mention a single bit of the complex, intriguing, hilarious and fantastically-woven plot for fear of spoilers) Lysander grows up, acquires a layer of cynicism, and sees the war, not as a game any more, but as a vast, unstoppable force, a huge monster that no-one can control, that is almost amoral. I'm writing a story set in The Great War myself, and was much struck by this viewpoint - that there's no 'right' or 'wrong' side, there's just this all-consuming thing that has to be fed and fed and fed, until either there's nothing left to feed it (bodies, ammo, food, coffins) or it blows itself up.

In case I've not been clear, I LOVED this book. Loved it. Cannot recommend it highly enough, and if you've never read Boyd before, you are in for such a treat.
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on 5 May 2013
William Boyd's new novel has been extravagantly praised, and it's not hard to see why. It contains some interesting and sympathetic characters, a love story which seems, at least, to end happily, some unusual settings in Freud's Vienna and in the London theatre-land of the period around the beginning of the First World War, and a good sense of what wartime London might have been like. (Indeed, there's a superb evocation of a Zeppelin attack which actually took place near Covent Garden near the end of 1915). There's also some interesting use of analogies between spying and acting, and the relevance of psychoanalysis to both. The problem is that these episodes seem somehow to have been attached to the wrong plot - a completely implausible, John Buchan style spy fantasy in which one man saves the Allied war effort. The idea that British Intelligence would go to such lengths to blackmail and recruit a young actor with no experience of secret work, before entrusting him with a mission on which the fate of the nation might depend, and that he would just turn out to be a natural secret agent of extraordinary skill and daring isn't just off-putting, it's also needlessly ambitious, when a simpler, less melodramatic, plot would have been far more effective. Anyone with a passing interest in the First World War knows why British offensives were failing, and it had nothing to do with enemy spies. In the end, Lysander Rief (named presumably after the Spartan Admiral) avoids the "reefs" of his new profession just a bit too easily for us to take the plot very seriously.
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on 5 January 2013
I like William Boyd as an author because his themes are always surprising. This book is about the first world war and the world before it. He comes at it from an unusual angle using the main protagonist, Lysander Rief, to tell the tale. He is an actor living in Vienna in 1913 trying to resolve a sexual problem at the opening of the book. He finds a psychoanalyst trained by Sigmund Freud but English so can converse with him. The story goes on to describe his relationship with a young woman, Hettie, who is already in a relationship with an Austrian artist. The start of the war causes him to return to the UK and he is in the army but eventually becomes involved in spying for the British as well as acting. The plot is complicated but is eventually resolved a little unrealistically I think in that they all 'live happily ever after'. Boyd builds up the tension and reveals considerable violence which was unexpected to me but the intricacies of the plot are worth unravelling.
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on 12 December 2012
After reading so many poor books lately, including some from brand name authors, it is such a delight to come back to an author who a) writes well b) engages you in the plot c) oh hoorah, isn't all creative writingy and does tell and not show.

This is the rare thing: a good book, well-written by a craftsman, and a likeable human protagonist.

I was engaged right through until the end and the evocation of Vienna is a delight as are the links with the Edwardian stage. Yes, there are criticisms: the spy plot is sort of dropped in and doesn't entirely convince us and anyway, hasn't Boyd done the bumbling spy thing before? And the change into first persson is distracting and unnecessary as a device.

A bit too clever.

Nevertheless, it is 4 stars and if only publishers took on more new writers who write like this - bet they don't.
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