Like any novel with William Boyd’s name on it, Waiting For Sunrise oozes class and sophistication. Those eleven little letters on the front of the novel are, for many readers, enough to know it is going to be a great one.
Cue avant-garde Vienna, 1913. Lysander Rief walks through an elegantly-painted city to his first appointment with the eminent psychiatrist Dr Bensimon. He is the first patient of Boyd’s invented therapy, Parallelism, which draws largely on American poet Wallace Stevens’ view that the world is a gaunt, grey place made expressive by the human imagination. As for Vienna, I’ve been once and thought it incredibly dreary but Boyd has convinced me I loved it and want to go back: it must be exceptionally written.
Sitting in the waiting room, Lysander ponders the intimate nature of his neurosis but is interrupted by the entrance of the ever-enticing Hettie Bull. Spellbinding Vienna becomes a ‘river of sex’, full of ‘perfect strangers’ in the passionate affair that follows. Boyd is big on chance meetings and Hettie is of course irresistible; Lysander for a while believes himself cured. Still, pretty girls are always trouble and after a rampage of sex and cocaine, Lysander is in more trouble than you could snort.
Back in London, it’s 1914, and Boyd draws a vivid portrait of a city engulfed in quivering pre-war tension; you can practically hear the hysteria in the laughter of women whose husbands are on the front line. War is imminent and Lysander is in a damaged state, legally and romantically. Unable to endure the tedium of normal life he is plunged into a dangerous theatre of wartime intelligence, espionage and deception. Of course the critics are finding problems – mainly with the fact that Lysander’s confession is a mirror of Ian McEwan’s Atonement and that the results of his psychoanalysis are a little clichéd.
But, Waiting For Sunrise is a feverish thriller that flits between cosmopolitan Vienna, wartime-London, the battlefields of France to the hotel rooms of Geneva. Plus there’s plenty of famous reference for those who loved Any Human Heart, and again, there’s those eleven little letters on the front cover, and they are as alluring as the prose itself.
Waiting For Sunrise is available now from Bloomsbury.
Words: Cally White