Feb 01, 12
Read in January, 2012
If you’re a casualty of fate, luck matters most
Lysander Rief, the heroic espionage agent engulfed by WWI intrigue in William Boyd’s latest historical thriller is at times as much caught up in events, entangled by circumstance and besotted with a woman as his namesake in Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream. Shakespeare made things happen in the woods by sprinkling fairy dust. Boyd lets the randomness of fate take control.
Young, innocent Rief has traveled to Vienna in 1913 to consult with an esteemed Freudian psychoanalyst about his problem that is sexual in nature. There he ends up in the same room with Hettie Bull, the first of two sirens who will profoundly alter the course of his life.
Rief, like Adam Kindred in “Ordinary Thunderstorms, even more so like Sally Gilmartin in Boyd’s WWII historical thriller “Reckless” and Logan Monstuart in “Any Human Heart,” becomes a casualty of circumstance, a victim of fate. He meets Hettie. She kites two cigarettes. His life pivots.
After he’s accused of sexual assault, Rief is forced to flee Vienna. Helped by the British war office, Rief is then enlisted to take part in two dangerous espionage missions that will pitch him into no-man’s-land on the French front and take him to Geneva and London in search of the British agent “Andromeda” who is trading secret information to the Germans. He’s caught in circumstances where it becomes continuously more difficult to tell truth from lies and where luck increasingly matters.
For all his ability to create characters that come to life, Boyd is even better at being a storyteller. I think “Waiting for Sunrise” is among his best. With more mastery than almost anyone, he also has the knack to make sex sound like fun. Here the two lovers try to emulate the sexual positions depicted in a book of erotic Japanese prints:
“Your leg is meant to be over my shoulder not under my armpit.”
“I’ll break my leg if I put it there.”
“Are you inside me? I can’t feel you.”
“I’m about three inches away. I can’t reach, it’s impossible.”
Boyd describes the WWI world as a place where “everything is unbelievably complicated. Everything.” He recreates the atmosphere, renders complex themes such as trust and betrayal precisely and tells a harrowing story in a straightforward manner that is all the more amazing because it is a complicated tale told in a way that is totally unaffected in its simplicity. A whole other way of looking at “Waiting for Sunrise” is as an absorbing spy story with some spirited sex. Either way, it’s a romp of a good read.