Beware of red herrings in ripping tale of intrigue and sed
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