Friday, August 23, 2013

Review of Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd (2012, Bloomsbury)

Lysander Rief, a young actor, has travelled to Vienna - the birthplace of his mother - to attend a psychiatrist in order to tackle a neurosis.  In the waiting room he meets the beautiful and precocious artist, Hettie Ball.  They start an affair which endangers them both, Rief eventually fleeing the city in early 1914.  A few months later, the Great War starts and Rief leaves the London stage to sign up for the army.  From there he is recruited into wartime intelligence due to his time in Vienna and sent to Switzerland via the trenches, tasked with discovering the identity of a spy in the war office.  Listless and unsure who to trust, Rief sets about the task, aware that his personal and work life have become horribly enmeshed.

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.

No comments: