Be­ware of red her­rings in rip­ping tale of in­trigue and sed

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Fiona Gru­ber

ANEW Wil­liam Boyd is an event in the pub­lish­ing world. The Scot­tish writer’s best­seller sta­tus has been as­sured by re­cent nov­els that stylishly mine the dra­matic events and themes of the 20th cen­tury. His clever and com­plex char­ac­ters typ­i­cally find them­selves in the thick of the ac­tion, dis­cov­er­ing dis­qui­et­ing skills suited to des­per­ate times.

Rest­less (2006) in­volved se­cret agents in World War II; Any Hu­man Heart (2002) also had the war at its core although it took in the decades be­fore and af­ter as well, in a saga rem­i­nis­cent of An­thony Pow­ell’s Dance to the Mu­sic of Time.

With Wait­ing for Sunrise Boyd has em­ployed the same for­mula, although this time the Great War is at the cen­tre and the in­spi­ra­tion seems more John Buchan than Pow­ell. Lysander Rief, our hero, is a hand­some young ac­tor and poet and the dar­ling of the draw­ing room com­edy crowd. De­spite his mati­nee idol charms, how­ever, he suf­fers from a dis­tress­ing case of sex­ual dys­func­tion.

Guess­ing the prob­lem is psy­cho­log­i­cal rather than phys­i­cal, he takes a break from the London stage and heads to the cap­i­tal of the Aus­tro-hun­gar­ian em­pire for the Vi­en­nese cure. It is 1913 and his med­i­cal con­fes­sor, Dr Ben­si­mon, shares a lot of Dr Freud’s the­o­ries. (He also has a surgery around the corner from Freud’s rooms in Berggasse and the fa­ther of psy­cho­anal­y­sis makes a short ap­pear­ance.)

In Ben­si­mon’s wait­ing room, Rief makes the ac­quain­tance of two other pa­tients who will shape his fu­ture. The first, Het­tie Bull, is a strik­ing and elfin-sized Bo­hemian who ar­rives in an ag­i­tated state in need of a mys­te­ri­ous ‘‘ in­jec­tion’’ and in­sists on jump­ing the queue.

The sec­ond is Al­wyn Munro, an­other Brit, one of mil­i­tary bear­ing, who seems on very friendly terms with Dr Ben­si­mon and who warns Rief that Het­tie is dan­ger­ous.

Af­ter a ses­sion on the couch ex­plain­ing his mys­te­ri­ous in­abil­ity to reach or­gasm, Rief is told to record his dreams and re­turn in a week. He heads for the Wiener Kunst- ma­te­ri­alen, a vast em­po­rium of paints, can­vases and note­books where he meets Het­tie, who tells him she is a sculp­tor and in­vites him to pose for her at her stu­dio.

Later, at Pen­sion Kri­wanek, Rief meets the swag­ger­ing Lieu­tenant Wol­fram Roz­man, who in­forms him that the glit­ter­ing me­trop­o­lis is a city of two lev­els: be­neath its po­lite ex­changes and stylish gath­er­ings is a rag­ing tor­rent, dark and strong, ‘‘ the river of sex’’.

We’re only on page 27 but the reader has all the point­ers to a romp­ing tale of in­trigue and se­duc­tion, a sex­pi­onage thriller with ex­tra ego and id.

As the tale heads for World War I, the shad­owy world of Bri­tish In­tel­li­gence rears its head and the truth be­comes slip­pery. This murk­i­ness is com­pounded by our hero record­ing dreams and im­pres­sions in a diary, and by Ben­si­mon’s the­ory of par­al­lel­ism, where a pa­tient is taught to re­con­struct a new past that re­moves all traces of dis­tress­ful events. The reader is plunged into a world of half-truths and rein­ven­tions.

There ap­pear to be sev­eral in­stances where char­ac­ters, ripe with the prom­ise of skull­dug­gery, shrink into nor­mal­ity and a po­ten­tial plot twist is al­low that Boyd mere with his loose e part of the psy heart of the nove

Rief’s dan­ger an­chored by his his beau­ti­ful Aus spare, gay ex­plo off-again fi­ance haven, but here isn’t nec­es­sar­ily

Boyd has had Sunrise, fill­ing h images from the garde, up­per-cla stage. As the Western Front t them­selves tripp on red her­rings. of the for­mu­laic, and the sexy R hero, is a man w like his cre­ator, f Fiona Gru­ber is and broad­caster

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