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Waiting for Sunrise

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Vienna. 1913. It is a fine day in August when Lysander Rief, a young English actor, walks through the city to his first appointment with the eminent psychiatrist, Dr. Bensimon. Sitting in the waiting room he is anxiously pondering the nature of his problem when an extraordinary woman enters. She is clearly in distress, but Lysander is immediately drawn to her strange, hazel eyes and her unusual, intense beauty.

Later the same day they meet again, and a more composed Hettie Bull introduces herself as an artist and sculptor, and invites Lysander to a party hosted by her lover, the famous painter Udo Hoff. Compelled to attend and unable to resist her electric charm, they begin a passionate love affair. Life in Vienna becomes tinged with the frisson of excitement for Lysander. He meets Sigmund Freud in a café, begins to write a journal, enjoys secret trysts with Hettie and appears to have been cured.

London, 1914. War is stirring, and events in Vienna have caught up with Lysander. Unable to live an ordinary life, he is plunged into the dangerous theatre of wartime intelligence – a world of sex, scandal and spies, where lines of truth and deception blur with every waking day. Lysander must now discover the key to a secret code which is threatening Britain’s safety, and use all his skills to keep the murky world of suspicion and betrayal from invading every corner of his life.

Moving from Vienna to London’s west end, the battlefields of France and hotel rooms in Geneva, Waiting for Sunrise is a feverish and mesmerising journey into the human psyche, a beautifully observed portrait of wartime Europe, a plot-twisting thriller and a literary tour de force from the bestselling author of Any Human Heart, Restless and Ordinary Thunderstorms.

368 pages, Hardcover

First published February 16, 2012

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About the author

William Boyd

53 books1,903 followers
Note: William^^Boyd

Of Scottish descent, Boyd was born in Accra, Ghana on 7th March, 1952 and spent much of his early life there and in Nigeria where his mother was a teacher and his father, a doctor. Boyd was in Nigeria during the Biafran War, the brutal secessionist conflict which ran from 1967 to 1970 and it had a profound effect on him.

At the age of nine years he attended Gordonstoun school, in Moray, Scotland and then Nice University (Diploma of French Studies) and Glasgow University (MA Hons in English and Philosophy), where he edited the Glasgow University Guardian. He then moved to Jesus College, Oxford in 1975 and completed a PhD thesis on Shelley. For a brief period he worked at the New Statesman magazine as a TV critic, then he returned to Oxford as an English lecturer teaching the contemporary novel at St Hilda's College (1980-83). It was while he was here that his first novel, A Good Man in Africa (1981), was published.

Boyd spent eight years in academia, during which time his first film, Good and Bad at Games, was made. When he was offered a college lecturership, which would mean spending more time teaching, he was forced to choose between teaching and writing.

Boyd was selected in 1983 as one of the 20 'Best of Young British Novelists' in a promotion run by Granta magazine and the Book Marketing Council. He also became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in the same year, and is also an Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He has been presented with honorary doctorates in literature from the universities of St. Andrews, Stirling and Glasgow. He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2005.

Boyd has been with his wife Susan since they met as students at Glasgow University and all his books are dedicated to her. His wife is editor-at-large of Harper's Bazaar magazine, and they currently spend about thirty to forty days a year in the US. He and his wife have a house in Chelsea, West London but spend most of the year at their chateau in Bergerac in south west France, where Boyd produces award-winning wines.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 984 reviews
Profile Image for Adrian White.
Author 5 books126 followers
February 18, 2012
In my younger and more vulnerable years, William Boyd gave me some advice I've been I've been turning over in my mind ever since . . .

Well, actually, what happened was that I wrote to him after having read An Ice-Cream War and told him how much I enjoyed his writing and that it reminded me of E.M. Forster. I also asked if he would agree to read some of my own work. He did agree - which was particularly nice of him - and he even replied with a few kind words of encouragement. He told me to 'keep writing'. In my youthful naivety and enthusiasm, I thought at first he meant for us to keep in touch but then I grew up a little and realised that he was telling me I should keep trying to be a writer.

So you can probably understand how I've always felt well-disposed towards William Boyd, considering him to be both a great writer and a fine human being. He was listed amongst the first Granta Best of Young British Novelists in 1983, along with the likes of Ian McEwan, Graham Swift, Martin Amis, Kazuo Ishiguro, Salman Rushdie etc. - all of whom I've followed with interest over the years, given the impression they made on me as a young wannabe writer. They all represented something to aspire to but for some reason William Boyd seemed to not quite belong to the same literary club - as though he already knew his own unique path and was determined to follow it come what may.

William Boyd is first and foremost a storyteller, a teller of stories. He writes in clear sentences, builds his characters into substantial entities, and he creates engrossing scenarios that drive a narrative. The 'only connect' failure to communicate awkwardness that characterised An Ice-Cream War - beaten to the Booker Prize in 1982 by Thomas Keneally's Schindler's Ark - was merely a taste of what was to come. Boyd produced a remarkable run of novels that included The New Confessions, Brazzaville Beach, The Blue Afternoon, and Any Human Heart and each of these books showed off his ability to tackle big themes over an extended time period. Often concentrating on a single protagonist, his stories never failed to reflect the bigger picture surrounding a person's life. I'd say the single most impressive achievement is that you want to know what happens next; not as a mystery to be solved but simply as a matter of interest in the outcome of the story, the resolution of a character's life. And, believe me, that is some achievement.

In 2006, Restless was published by Bloomsbury, Boyd having moved from Penguin Books, and it marked something of a new departure. Almost unashamedly populist, the book won a Costa Book Award and - more tellingly - was on the shortlist for the Richard and Judy Best Read of the Year for the British Book Awards. This resulted in the kind of commercial success writers can only dream of and - given how fondly I think of William Boyd - you'd imagine I'd be pleased for him. And I am, only . . .

In switching to an espionage plot with Restless and attempting an almost orthodox thriller with his next book Ordinary Thunderstorms, William Boyd has lost me. I'm not a snob - honest - it's just that he isn't as good at this as are many other writers. What prompted me to sit down and write this piece was my reading of his next book, Waiting for Sunrise, due to be published in early 2012. A literary agent once said to me: 'I enjoyed your book - but not that much.' I did enjoy Waiting for Sunrise - but not that much. There's more subterfuge; there's a return to the trenches of the First World War; there's a fascinating lead character with a story to tell; the problem is I just don't care. By the time I get to the denouement, it doesn't seem to matter who did what to whom and when.

Graham Greene knew how to spin a ripping yarn and William Boyd does too. Greene used to differentiate between his novels and what he called his 'entertainments' and I suspect these later William Boyd books should be categorised as entertainments. What they lack, and what I miss, is that insight into the human heart - the human factor, as Greene would have put it - that so captured my own heart all those years ago.

Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,468 reviews3,642 followers
August 21, 2018
Many things had happened on the eve of the First World War: both crucial and mysterious…
It is a clear and dazzling summer’s day in Vienna. You are standing in a skewed pentangle of lemony sunshine at the sharp corner of Augustiner Strasse and Augustinerbastei, across from the opera house, indolently watching the world pass by you, waiting for someone or something to catch and hold your attention, to generate a tremor of interest. There’s a curious frisson in the city’s atmosphere today, almost spring-like, though spring is long gone, but you recognize that slight vernal restlessness in the people going by, that stirring of potential in the air, that possibility of audacity – though what audacities they might be, here in Vienna, who can say? Still, your eyes are open, you are unusually poised, ready for anything – any crumb, any flung coin – that the world might casually toss your way.

Not the world, William Boyd tosses our way some sort of period mystery.
Waiting for Sunrise is easy to read and it is probably the main merit of the novel…
The book is quite entertaining and the story is smoothly meandering its way between psychoanalyzing and spying.
Sex, scandals, secrets: isn’t it history?
Profile Image for Anne .
455 reviews376 followers
May 22, 2021

I have loved every William Boyd book that I've read to date. This one, not so much.
Given that Boyd is a favorite writer and that I'm a moody reader, I will probably give it another try at a later date.

5/21/21 Update

3.5 stars

I liked this book a lot more the second time around.

More thoughts soon.
Profile Image for Tony Mac.
219 reviews20 followers
July 31, 2016
Oh dear, all a bit disappointing in the end. One of those books which for most of its length threatens to be clever and brilliant but ultimately fails to deliver the goods. It's a decent enough read while it goes on, with well observed characters and a clear sense of place and time, but its one of those high wire act thrillers that needs to deliver on the ingenuousness it constantly implies if it is going to pull it off, and it simply fails to do it.

I don't mind a bit of ambiguity and I get all the references to parallel realities, multiple truths and permanent performance, but the stage magician has to deliver a credible ending to bring the house down, and this ain't it. You spin a lot of plates, Mr Boyd, but - to borrow a theme from the books' first act - you fail to deliver a satisfying climax. Too much confusion, too many loose ends, too many red herrings, too many inferred relationships that actually go nowhere. And what on earth are you doing with the central relationship? Lysander's sexual obsession with one woman, over which he seems to have absolutely no control, is discarded in the blink of an eye? Come on!

It comes across like a lot of modern TV thriller serials which pretend to construct incredibly complex scenarios, making the viewer work hard to keep up in anticipation of a sensationally clever conclusion, and then simply cop out at the end, failing to address their own challenges and leaving the viewer puzzled and let down. As a reader its as if I've done all the work for very little reward. Shame.
Profile Image for Ingrid.
1,263 reviews54 followers
December 23, 2019
After a 100 pages I'm still bored to tears with the escapades of the protagonist. This book is not for me.
Profile Image for Algernon (Darth Anyan).
1,531 reviews979 followers
June 1, 2016

"Rief - is that Scottish?"
"Old English. It means 'thorough', some say. And I've also been told it's Anglo-Saxon dialect for 'wolf'. All very confusing."
"A thorough wolf. Wolfishly thorough. What about the 'Ulrich'? Are you part German?"
"My mother is Austrian."

Lysander Ulrich Rief is a young man who visits Vienna in the year 1914, hoping one of Dr. Freud's followers, a British psychologist named Bensimon, can find a cure for his inner demons. In between talking about his dreams and his repressed memories, Lysander is getting mixed up in the vibrant life of the Austrian capital, with the people at the pension where he rents a room, with a couple of military attachees from the British embassy and with Hettie Bull, a crazy (?) young woman he meets in the antechamber of Dr. Bensimon.

The blurbs describe this as a 'spy novel', but there is apparently little to justify the claim in this first Viennese section at the book. William Boyd is a master at dissimulation and at inserting little disturbing notes into the narrative that slowly change the focus from the inner journey of discovery Lysander Rief is going through, to the European conflict that is just about ready to burst. Lysander is an actor and a poet, and most of all an innocent in a world rife with intrigue and betrayals. He gets in trouble in Vienna, and the reader is aware that some of the events that led to his plight are anything but accidental.

My life seems to be running on a track I have nothing to do with - I'm a passenger on a train but I have no idea of the route it's taking to the final destination.

Among the themes and clues introduced in this first section of the novel:

- secrets - people who go to psychiatrists are already aware of their problems. What they search for is confession, a priest-like absolution for their sins. As Lysander analizes his involvement to the sculptor Hettie Bull, the fact that he met her through his doctor is probably the main atraction: ... the wounded, the incomplete, the unbalanced, the malfunctioning, the ill seek each other out: like attracted to like. [...] Obsession - or love? Or was it something more unhealthy - a kind of craving, an addiction? . Secrets are also what a curious person can find as he or she searches through the files of a doctor's office. What a great tool for recruiting spies or for blackmail: Bensimon had been the only person to whom he had ever told the truth about that summer's day at the turn of the century and he had to admit that the recounting of his dire and dark secret had produced a form of catharsis.

- reality - is a relative and often subjective, malleable concept. And the most dangerous lies are the ones we tell to ourselves, even as Dr. Bensimon argues in favor of self-hypnosis as a valid method to cure anxiety. Let's say that the world is in essence neutral - flat, empty, bereft of meaning and significance. It's us, our imaginations, that make it vivid, fill it with colour, feeling, purpose and emotion. Once we understand this we can shape our world in any way we want. In theory.

- guilt and truth - No human being is entirely innocent. warns Lt. Wolfram Rozmann, a Jewish Austrian officer accused of theft because of his ethnicity. But is he telling the truth or lying to save his skin? Who else is lying about his motives and his identity?

We meet Lysander again several months later, returned to London and to his career as an actor. He thinks he has left the Vienna troubles behind, but his ghosts return with a vengeance as war is declared, and Lysander is blackmailed into joining the secret service by two of his former acquaintances from Austria. The reader wonders, together with the young man, why Lysander's presence is so important since he has neither the training nor the inclination for the cloak and dagger business. A short but intense episode in the Flanders trenches that will give Lysander fresh material for his nightmares, followed by a part baffling part suicidally dangerous mission in Geneve, accelerate the growing up process necessary for survival in the world of spies. Lysander puts to good use the lessons leanred in the theater: improvisation, disguising his appearance, keeping his cool and hiding his feelings when things go pearshaped.

A third section of the novel ramps up the tension and the stakes of the game, as Lysander is put like a bloodhound on the track of a high level traitor in the British high command. The quest starts with a boring search through mountains of records, but soon enough it turns personal for mr. Rief, as many of the accidents in Vienna are revealed to be connected to his present investigation . It is time now for the most important lesson of all in the business : TRUST NO ONE!, as Lysander must play one spy against another, protecting the people that are important to him and forcing the expendable pieces off the board. The dramatic finale offers a creditable explanation, but the genius of mr. Boyd rests in the questions left unanswered and in the lingering doubt that what we are offered is only a cosmetic mask acceptable to all parties that allows the game to continue. We are alo offered now a sort of explanation for the title of the novel, as Lysander retreats inside himself to find the strength and the clarity needed to bring the case to a closure:

The view backward showed you all the twists and turns your life had taken, all the contingencies and chances, the random elements of good luck and bad luck that made up one person's existence. Still, questions buzzed around his brain all night as he tossed and fidgeted, punched and turned his pillows, opened and closed the windows of his room, waiting for sunrise.

Personally, I prefer the more obscure, yet more poetic reference in the intimate journal of the young man, alluding to the same sentiments of being lost in a world of darkness and danger, yet thrilled to be alive:

Seventh Caprice in Pimlico

The dawn created itself
And turned to see what had been lit.

Rubbish, litter, broken glass and a bit
Of Green England, unsmirched, a glance
At something beautiful. Behold the dance:
The girls advance,
The boys decline.
Emerging from the Piccadilly Line
I find the tropic odours of Leicester Square
Beguile and mesmerize.
I roam the streets at midnight. The glare
Of gaslights an artificial sunrise.

'Les colombes de ma cousine
Pleurent comme un enfant.'

William Boyd was one of my first 'discoveries' back in the early 90's when I started to frequent the British Council Library in Bucharest and re-discovering him now I realise how much I missed his elegant prose, his subtle humour and his respect for the reader's intelligence. With "Waiting for Sunrise" I believe Boyd deserves to be cited in the same class as Le Care, Buchan, Deighton and other masters of the spy novel.
Profile Image for Jill.
1,190 reviews1,693 followers
August 17, 2016
It is no accident that William Boyd names his key character “Lysander” – the name of the iconic lover of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the victim of misapplied magic.

Lysander Rief is a British actor of some renown on the world stage of life, as the rumblings of World War I become more and more pronounced. We meet him in Vienna where he is “taking the talking cure” with a disciple of Sigmund Freud’s as a result of a personal problem. While in his psychotherapist’s antechamber, he meets up with two others who will ultimately have a profound effect on his life. He falls under a magical love spell of sorts with the woman, Hettie (think: Hermia from the Shakespeare play). And, as Shakespeare’s own Lysander famously said, “The course of true love never did run smooth.”

As in the play, Lysander will be forced to literally and figuratively enter a forest, a place of confusion, passion, heartache. And he will ultimately realize that “We’re all acting, aren’t we? Almost all the time—each and every one of us.”

All of this is ensconced within a gripping espionage story as Rief, back in London during war time, is thrust into the world of underground intelligence, where his superiors are eager to use him to flesh out a traitor who is undermining the war efforts. Rief will be forced to rely on his improvisational acting skills to reveal that traitor’s identity. He will not know whom to trust and who will betray him. Gradually, he begins to inhabit a world “where it’s hard to make things out clearly, hard to tell exactly what is what and who is whom.”

If all this sounds intriguing – it is. I am not typically a fan of the espionage story, but this one had me compulsively turning pages. The characterizations are well fleshed-out, the sense of place is finely-drawn, and the depiction of what is real and what can be trusted is palpable. From the antechambers of Vienna to the battlegrounds of London to the elusive streets of Geneva, this book captured my attention and kept me reading on as more and more is revealed. It is the first book I’ve read by William Boyd and it will not be the last.

Profile Image for Alexander McNabb.
Author 10 books49 followers
May 20, 2012
I hate to do this. I have long been an admirer of William Boyd's stuff, but this book was one I had to force myself through, often finding myself skimming. The main character, Lysander Rief, struck me as being all over the place - I often found myself drawn up to ponder why on earth would he do that or say this? I suppose part of that is because little personality shines through that isn't self-obsessed and obnoxious. A sexual predator with little love for women, Rief is half Austrian but not interred or even interviewed as war breaks out, in fact is recruited by MI6.

There doesn't seem to be much structure on offer here, it reads as if it was made up as we went along. Rief in Austria, Rief the sexual failure, Rief the actor, Rief the upper class twit, Rief the soldier, Rief the spy, Rief the lover, Rief the boozer. They all become a tad exhausting.

There are echoes of TE Lawrence in Rief - his superiority, his drawling insolence at a superior officer over whom he has a hold, his decision to become a private rather than take the commission he could so easily have achieved. And yet they are only echoes - there's nothing of the complexity and conflict that make Lawrence interesting. Rief isn't, well, driven to anything. He just muddles through.

I liked the setting and I liked the language, Boyd manages to capture the clipped schoolboy spies nicely. There are elements of this book that are brilliant. But the thing as a whole rambled and just didn't come together for me. I came out of it feeling a little tired and perhaps a tad puzzled.

But for dark wartime espionage you can't better Alan Furst...
Profile Image for ·Karen·.
617 reviews768 followers
September 12, 2012
Intriguing. Boyd sets up the Bergsonian idea of the Fonction Fabulatrice so very thoroughly, our protagonist is an actor and a confirmed liar, so how much are we to trust his version of events? I have no idea. It all sounds plausible, coherent, but there are some rather odd elements. I think a re-read might be in order.

Done! I get it now. I was reading it all the wrong way, overthinking it. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and a thriller is just a thriller, and not a po-mo deconstruction of the narrative process. Bluff: from the German verbluffen, to mislead or baffle. So this is a spy story: bluff, double bluff, triple bluff. You pays your money and you takes your choice as to just how far you wants to go with Lysander's persecution complex. What is he protecting himself from? Not always adequately accounted for. And some of those odd elements really are just there to rack up the tension, no more than that. Has his addiction to chloral hydrate addled his brain? It's left to you to decide.

On a second reading, Mr Boyd's obsession with what people were wearing began to grate on the nerves. Bit of a foot fetishist I'd say.
Profile Image for Will Ansbacher.
317 reviews88 followers
February 6, 2016
The first book I’ve read by this author: I had another on hold and saw this meanwhile.

Sunrise is ... well, imagine John Buchan’s The 39 Steps with sex. And what ludicrously un-Edwardian sex it is too. Beautiful women fling themselves at Hannay’s alter ego (the half-Austrian, Lysander Rief) in what can only be described as 1960’s style romps. Reif, meet Bond ... James Bond!

This is basically knees-bent running-around intrigue, and with dialogue that is imaginatively appropriate for the era – the years from 1913 to early WW1. In other words, authentic but stilted (what is it with me and century-old tales recently? I think I have to get out of this rut!)

It begins in Austria, where Lysander is being treated by a psychiatrist for sexual dysfunction (he can’t come). There is an interminably tedious exchange between the two of them, full of pseudo-psychological theory ... eventually leading to the first encounter where amazingly, he finds he has been cured. Let’s hear it for the Freudian School! (the great man even makes a cameo appearance here).
After a false accusation and a run-in with the Austrian police, Lysander is spirited out of the country from the British consulate and back to England where he is pressed into doing some undercover work in return for his escape.

But it takes about half the book to get to this point, so hardly fast-paced, although it does pick up after that. Multiple twists and turns follow, some not very convincing; there’s a murder in Geneva and Lysander almost dies; it all hinges on traitorous messages that were encoded using an extremely rare opera libretto that only Lysander and a few others know about.
As in all good mysteries, there are a host of possible traitors, including his mother, his handlers, half of a War Office department and several of his women. The final denouement occurs at dawn (of course), after Lysander twigs to an obscure statement that only he knew to be false.

But although not predicable, it is all a bit dull à la Buchan, even with the sex. At one point I thought Lysander was going to be the “unreliable narrator”, which would have been very appropriate, considering that he was a well-known actor before going to Vienna. It would have made some of the plot twists more intriguing too. But no, Lysander is straight and true; I had the feeling that Boyd wanted Waiting for Sunrise to be a bit po-mo but didn’t quite manage it.

Or did I get the whole thing wrong and it’s really a clever parody of Fleming/Buchan-esque novels? Answers on a postcard, slipped under the door, please.
Profile Image for Jeanette (Ms. Feisty).
2,179 reviews1,947 followers
February 3, 2012
When I write an honest review of a book I disliked, it often generates endless comments, mostly from people who want to argue with me. The net effect being that a book I didn't want to waste time on ends up stealing even more of my time as I try to respond to comments months and even years later.

SO...I thought this book stank, and that's all I'm sayin'.
Profile Image for Semjon.
660 reviews355 followers
January 19, 2023
Ejakulationsprobleme und deren psychologische Behandlung in den 10er Jahren des letzten Jahrhunderts, flach und langweilig geschrieben, vorwiegend Dialoge ohne sprachliche Inspiration. Vielleicht eine große Zeit, aber kein großes Buch. Abbruch nach 10 %.
Profile Image for John McDermott.
388 reviews52 followers
September 24, 2023
Best considered as one of William Boyds 'Entertainments '.
I really enjoyed it ,although the ending felt a tad rushed.
3.75 🌟
Profile Image for Cynthia.
633 reviews43 followers
January 31, 2012
Where’s the Sun?

The main character in “Waiting for Sunrise”, Lysander, is an actor. He’s in his late twenties and decides to go to Vienna in 1913 to be psychoanalyzed in order to hopefully cure a sexual malady. Throughout the book there are references to plays, mostly by Shakespeare but notably one by Strindberg called ‘Miss Julie’ however since it takes place on Midsummer’s Night it evokes Shakespeare as well. “Measure for Measure” is the most often mentioned but Hamlet and Lear come up as well. This leads me to wonder if Lysander was thinking of his life as a mean spirited comedy (Measure) or a tragedy, specifically a tragedy where the main character becomes lost and deluded…..or is just frolicking.

Lysander’s central tragedy takes place when he’s fourteen and he betrays some innocent people changing their lives drastically for the worse. Instead of forgiving himself and making amends by being honest he’s encouraged to re-imagine the incidents. Of course, as an actor, re-writing his life is second nature and it’s a time and place where Freudian ideas are rampant as well as the new method of acting invented by Stanislavsky, both rely on creating or using motivations whether consciously or unconsciously.

This book is part love story, part mystery and part espionage thriller. Lysander gets caught up in all of these yet what they have in common is there’s always a woman who may or may not be what she seems. For that matter Lysander seldom seems to have a center either. The men in his life are either absent, dead father, uncle away from home, step father much older, or outright controlling such as his spy handlers. Unfortunately his worst enemy might be himself. Boyd writes an excellent book that will hold your interest. I was let down by the ending though it was clear that’s exactly what the writer was trying to do…..leave things ambiguous. The “Sun” never does show itself. I’m not sure how Boyd made me love this book so much even as I felt let down. Here are a few reasons: excellent writing, an exciting era, intriguing literary references and many fascinating ideas to contemplate.

Profile Image for Elizabeth K..
804 reviews40 followers
August 8, 2012
I like William Boyd and this was enjoyable, although not outstanding. It's what you expect, WWI setting, London, Vienna, intrigue, love and passion. I think there's actually a decent conspiracy drama in here -- I'm not entirely sure because at some point I couldn't follow it anymore. I got a little lost at which things were supposed to be coincidences that later turn out to be clues in the conspiracy, and which things were supposed to be plain old coincidences. I think there's a little snicker there, because Freud's theories are a big theme in the book, so sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

I have found this in Boyd's work in general, but rather more pronounced here, the odd tendency to write passionate scenes as if he's working from a checklist. Describe breasts. Check. Describe nipples. Check. Describe thighs. Check. The love scenes are like Mad Libs.

Grade: B- with standards.
Recommended: It's really not bad, especially for fans of this time period. However, if you are only going to read one Boyd novel, it should still be Any Human Heart.
Profile Image for Zina.
Author 4 books12 followers
May 2, 2012
I like William Boyd - a lot, but I didn't like this. Young, middle-ranking English actor shows up in 1913 Vienna to consult an English shrink to help him with his inability to achieve orgasm. Shrink helps. Young actor, Lysander Rief, then has steamy affair with very neurotic young artist, who accuses him of rape to protect herself when her volatile partner finds out about their affair. Rief escapes because he is a master of disguise. Of course he is. He's an actor.

His skills have been noted and appreciated by England's Secret Services, who recruit him as a spy. Off to the front he goes, to France, then Switzerland then finally back to England to sort it all out. There's plenty of local colour; quite a lot of sex - but a great deal of inconsistency of character, some plodding plotting, and too many of the dullest sentences I've read in a while. Definitely Boyd in an off period.
Profile Image for Jake Goretzki.
746 reviews116 followers
April 19, 2012
All a bit bloodless.

With such a giant glut of historical fiction out there at the moment, my first thought was ‘here we go again’ (Pat Barker’s done it, Sebastian Faulks has done it, Alan Hollinghurst’s just done it).

The main issue though was that I just didn’t believe in the main character, Lysander. He felt shallow and rushed. His ‘war’ was barely a daytrip, (almost as if Boyd looks over the parapet and decides it’s best to avoid throwing himself into that quagmire). He then finds himself appointed spy hunter. He’s a bit of a poet too, to begin with (Hollinghurst anyone?) and a stage actor. Perhaps he was just a bit of a wet blanket, but there were moments when he seemed to be drawn rather lazily – I underlined a moment where he was feeling ‘stressed’ (anachronism, right?) and sighed at a moment where he debated whether his feelings for his lover were an ‘almost like an addiction’. I also wondered how a man would really feel if his lover had had him arrested for rape (at the behest of the first of her two flatly truculent husbands) – oh, and she has a son that her second husband doesn’t know about. And she’s changed her name, then changed it back.

I also suspect that William Boyd really wanted to write a WW2 thriller - I kept having to remind myself that this was 1915, not 1940, since the world of espionage seemed so much more developed than I imagine it would really have been in WW1. Odd choice of narrator too, switching from first to third person (I don’t really get what it adds. It didn’t make him any rounder really).

Oh, and that cover. Another Book Design Crime. ‘Silhouette of person against pale background’ covers are so ubiquitous, Private Eye has given up its book-a-like feature on them.

So, all a bit of a mixed picture. Think of it as a practice run for the next Bond novel.
Profile Image for Tony.
920 reviews1,558 followers
December 27, 2015
I don't usually want my pots boiled; but when I do, I like Mr. Boyd to do the boiling. He's erudite, can raise the temperature at times, and knows how to keep things hidden. That said, there were moments when he strained credulity.

Delightful enough. But I'm guessing three months before I forget the plot and characters.

Oh...and I learned this: Any fool can 'obey' an order. The clever thing is to interpret it.
Profile Image for Nancy Oakes.
1,939 reviews750 followers
June 12, 2012
I loved it. Absolutely.

Lysander Rief arrives in Vienna in 1913 to receive psychological help for a sexual problem. His closest friend in England had convinced him to try psychoanalysis; taking his advice, Lysander took out all of his savings and moved to Austria. At his first session with Dr. Bensimon, he is advised to keep a journal, which Lysander calls his "Autobiographical Investigations," which Bensimon says will hopefully yield a direct insight into Lysander's unconscious mind during the course of his treatment. Lysander's first entry details the event at age 14 that led simultaneously to his burden of guilt and his sexual issue. Bensimon believes the answer is to be found in his theory of "parallelism," scoffed at by Freud, which is "basically about using your imagination." The idea is this:

"If the everyday world, everyday reality, is a fiction we create then the same can be said of our past -- the past is an aggregate of fictive realities we have already experienced -- our memories."

Bensimon's job, as he sees it, is to try to change "those old fictions" Lysander's been living with. The doctor's brief use of hypnotic therapy plants an altogether-different version of that traumatic day in a "parallel world" within Lysander's subconscious that Lysander can develop in place of the real one. This technique aligns with Lysander's profession as an actor, where he is both himself and not himself, where he is always performing, and where it's "just an act, after all..., his métier, his talent, his calling." But as Lysander is about to discover, he's not the only one who is an actor. And so begins this tale of deceptions, of shifting identities in a world of duplicity and performance in some fashion or another. It's a book where efforts to discern what is real and not real and who to trust follow on the heels of the fictions created by Boyd's characters, and really, what better venue can there be for such ideas than a spy story?

The story moves from Lysander's psychological treatment to his infatuation with another one of Bensimon's patients, Hettie. She is a sculptor, living a rather bohemian life with her artist-significant other Udo. Hettie and Lysander enjoy a torrid affair, but out of nowhere, Hettie accuses him of rape; he is placed under arrest and "escapes" with help from fellow countrymen at the British Embassy, leaving him in a lot of debt. Leaving Vienna and returning to England, he joins the army as World War I erupts, but his days in Vienna come back to haunt him when he is called upon to perform some secret-agent type work that will take him across enemy lines into Switzerland. Once home in England again, he must penetrate the closed-ranks bureaucracy within the military war machine to root out who is leaking secrets to the enemy, but some bizarre and unforeseen complications arise along the way. Lysander notes in his journal at one point that his " life seems to be running on a track I have nothing to do with,” -- he feels like a "passenger on a train" with no idea of where he's going and the route he's taking. He makes several references to waiting for sunrise, when "he might know what to do next," or when he has hopes that its arrival will bring understanding and clarity or "at least clearer vision," but the actor who once loved the limelight learns that it may be safer to remain in the world of shadows.

Obviously there's much more to talking about this book than space will allow. I liked this novel immensely. This book has so many positives, including Boyd's awesome portrayal of a world in flux, a world that was "spinning, faster than ever ...," with time "on the move in this modern world" where the old was "going fast, disappearing and something different, something new, was inevitably taking its place." In 1913 Vienna Boyd's sense of place and time captures the atmosphere of this city on the cusp of an uneasy modernity, and reflect the same in wartime England and on the battlefields of France. There's a fair amount of wry humor that runs throughout, and the character of Lysander's gay uncle and his African lover brought out the occasional chuckle. On the down side, readers might be put off by the sometimes-meandering action or the pointless sidelines, for example, with Lysander's off-again, on-again relationship with his girlfriend Blanche. And if you're looking for a straight-up, full-on novel of high espionage, this really isn't it -- this is much more of a character-driven story than a tale of adventure.

So maybe this isn't the best book William Boyd's ever written, but it's still damn good, and it will capture your imagination for a few hours as you're transported back in time. I don't think you can ask for much more than that.
Profile Image for switterbug (Betsey).
845 reviews813 followers
February 7, 2012
Young, blandly handsome British stage actor Lysander Rief lives in the shadow of his renowned, deceased father, a charismatic, talented actor that died in his prime. Lysander travels to Vienna in 1913 to undergo psychoanalysis, which is becoming the rage now that Freud has pioneered the "talking cure." While there, he engages in a sordid love affair with a seductive, gamine sculptor. The consequences propel him toward the most intrepid performance of his life--a persona game of guile and espionage, a dangerous role that he must inhabit and "perform" for the British government.

Telling too much about the plot risks spoiling the reader's discovery. The story is largely interpretive, and the inferences are shaped by an individual's own experiences, knowledge and beliefs regarding psychology, mythology, art, and the different states of consciousness. What is readily apparent, and what is under the surface, like the Danube's ever-flowing water, teases the reader long after the last page is read. The cover of the book before me shows a photograph of Vienna, the photo being a representation of reality. What is real, and what may be projection, imagination, manipulation, creation, or representation, is left for the reader to discern.

The story unfolds during the transformation of an era, as WW I looms on the horizon. Late modernity is taking root, "flickers," or film advances as a medium for actors, art is moving toward Expressionism, and Freud and Jung have split over their views of sex and the unconscious. This is a perfect book for structure fans, for its form is a frame for all that transpires. Boyd seamlessly braids, through alternating points of view and short, terse chapters, what is known and what is obscured. Often, what is hidden reveals what is present, and what is present exposes what is veiled. Moreover, he peppers the pages with a constant play of light on things concrete, like buildings and objects, and things abstract, like dreams and ideas.

At first sight, the narrative moves linearly at a clipped pace, almost blithely, artlessly straightforward. Like a kaleidoscope, however, the perspective turns a fraction with each short chapter and with the three points of view Boyd incorporates throughout. The reader may eventually perceive that it is more opaque than clear, more dissembling than disclosing, and yet, it ultimately coalesces and connects, like night and day, wakefulness and sleep, dreams and reality, truth and lies, identity and deception, betrayal and faithfulness, shadows and light.

Boyd's genius is that the story succeeds and commands on any of its contingent trajectories. Any inferred fissures, breaches, and cracks, no matter which way you spin the narrative wheel, intersect with the threshold regions where this book resides. The novel inhabits liminal spaces and periods, taking place in the interstitial zones of time and place, between the conscious and unconscious; knowing and unknowing; twilight and dawn.

"The more we know the less we know," says Lysander. That applies, also, to the relationship between the reader and the narrative. The story is full of paradoxes, ambiguities, coded keys, and psychosexual connotations. As you navigate through the pages, you may sometimes wonder which way the compass is pointing.

"My life seems to be running on a track I have nothing to do with--I'm a passenger on a train but I have no idea of the route it's taking or its final destination."

Whether you are a poet, a dreamer, an actor, a soldier, or neither, a lot happens while you are wending your way through this darkly wry novel, waiting for sunrise.
Profile Image for Brian.
Author 48 books144 followers
March 23, 2013
Like Boyd's other recent and highly successful novels, Waiting For Sunrise is the story of a relatively ordinary individual caught up in extraordinary events. Opening in Vienna in nineteen fifteen, it begins with Lysander Rief, a not overly-successful English actor, sitting in the consulting room of Dr Bensimon, a psycho-analyst, to whom he has come for help with sexual problems that originate in a childhood burdened with confusion and deception.

A chance acquaintance with Hetty, a young Englishwoman, in the psycho-analyst's waiting room, precipitates a passionate affair that will profoundly alter the course of Lysander's life. In his childhood, as he confesses to Dr Bensimon, he was the cause of an innocent young man losing his livelihood and being falsely accused of sexually molesting him. So there's a certain justice when some months later he himself is falsely accused of sexual assault by Hetty, and is obliged to flee Vienna in disguise.

His escape is facilitated by Monroe, a military attaché at the British embassy. Later, when Boyd has returned to London and believes he has put the incident behind him, Monroe resurfaces, requiring a service from Boyd in repayment of his debt. The First World War is now in full swing and someone is revealing details of the British Army's plans to the enemy. Monroe wants Lysander to unmask a traitor in the highest echelons of the British Army

Like all good spy stories Waiting For Sunrise presents the reader with a a hall of mirrors. The psycho-analyst's strategy for curing Lysander is the construction of an imaginary parallel world in which he must learn to believe in a different past. A similar process is now required by Lysander's new career in espionage with its assumed identities and false trails. In addition, there's also a complex web of literary allusions that adds yet another teasing layer of meaning and commentary.

It's an highly entertaining story with some wonderful description, both of character and setting. But, for me, it's a little bit too much of a game. It's extremely well-researched and well-constructed but it didn't move me in any way, or leave me feeling that I've witnessed anything other than a formidable display of craftsmanship. From many other authors that would be enough. I just think that Boyd is capable of a great deal more.
Profile Image for Fred Shaw.
562 reviews43 followers
January 19, 2017
I enjoyed reading this so much I didn't want it to end. Great character in Lysander Rief: a young Englishman, a stage actor turned espionage pro, a man who frequently falls for the fairer sex, and is able to put on a disguise that his own mother won't recognize. The story begins in Vienna, just prior to WW I, 1914, where Rief is seeking the advice of a psychiatrist to deal with a personal problem. After all Vienna is Freud's milieu. The doctor he sees is English however and he falls for a woman who is also English. Go figure. His surreptitious return to England leads him to the Army as war breaks out and his journey takes him into many interesting twists and trysts. Great story, writing, setting and characters.
Profile Image for Sean.
72 reviews58 followers
May 17, 2012
This spy novel was a pleasant surprise. Waiting for Sunrise takes place at the opening of WWI between 1913 and 1915 in Vienna, Geneva, and London. It follows a young British actor named Lysander Rief who is wrongly accused of rape in his travels to Vienna to seek treatments for a sexual dysfunction. As a result, he flees the country and returns home and enlists in the war effort. He is recruited as a spy to locate a mole in the British war office and is caught up in an exciting counter-espionage plot.

The real treat of this novel is William Boyd’s writing. This author has a gift for storytelling. His prose is elegant and enthralling. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Bandit.
4,609 reviews469 followers
November 13, 2015
Just wanted to make sure Sweet Caress wasn't a one off and gladly it wasn't. Boyd is in fact a good writer. Alas spy novels aren't particularly my thing, so when, closer to the halfway point, the story veered in that direction, it didn't particularly engage as much as a regular historical novel would, but it was still a very enjoyable read. Strongly reminiscent of C.J. Sansom's Winter in Madrid. An unwitting man (theatre actor of all things) gets drawn into political and military intrigue, in this case during WWI. Action, suspense, femmes (fatale and otherwise), contrivances and machinations...it's easy to see how Boyd went on to write a Bond adventure. With this author, it seems I definitely prefer his writing style, the narrative itself to characters and, on occasion, even plot itself, though I very much like the historical aspects and perspectives. It read quickly and was plenty entertaining, though spy genre for me remains more of a cinematic sort of experience. Good fun.
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,784 reviews1,458 followers
December 26, 2014
Too complicated. Too unclear. It is pretty meaningless to say that life is totally subjective.

I like Boyd's language.... even in this book. I like how he creates people that draw your interest and how he throws in history and details about literature and music and tons of other topics too. These details are fascinating. But a book is also the story that is being told and the message that is being conveyed. Both completely failed me in this book. You get a very complicated spy story that is impossible to solve; and maybe the point is you are not even supposed to try. The ending is totally dissatisfying. This has nothing to do with needing a tight ending.

Narration by Roger May is fine. In fact the conversations between French, German and English speaking people are quite amusing, wonderfully delivered.
Profile Image for Rob Twinem.
854 reviews37 followers
January 19, 2023
A wonderful storyteller. He has the ability to transform you to a time in history where often a major event is happening or about to take place. In this instance it is Vienna 1913 and Lysander Rief, an out of work actor is visiting an eminent psychiatrist when the beautiful elfin Hettie Bull walks in. A passionate, and ultimately doomed affair commences that will have long reaching consequences. Meanwhile 1 year later in London Riel is employed by wartime intelligence service to identify the person at the heart of government who is supplying valuable confidential wartime information to the enemy. As always I was swept along with Boyd’s descriptive prose and his very precise sympathetic nod to the events of that time. His books not only entertain but also educate. I was not aware of Turner Cars, founded in Wolverhampton in 1902, who manufactured one of the earliest 2 seater open tourer sports cars simply named the Turner 2 seater. This was the plaything of Lysander’s uncle Hamo, a colourful character, who enjoys a pivotal role in this superb novel. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,439 followers
May 11, 2012
Lysander Reif, actor and hapless lover, is given brief speaking parts in Waiting… through the prop of a diary prepared for his Viennese psychoanalyst. Otherwise we watch in wonder (a laugh behind our smile) as this young British pawn in pre-WWI Vienna is turned this way and that in canny and knowing hands and is subjected to the voracious appetites of more mature personalities. Lysander, like the Shakespearean character of that name in A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, experiences a magical twist in his affections from the tall, fair, svelte Blanche to the dark-haired and gamine Hettie while at the same time being “run” by British Intelligence.

Never boring and never entirely serious, Boyd’s novel allows us to enjoy romping good theatre: he portrays agonizingly real motivations and maneuvers which leave our hero momentarily on the defensive. But Lysander is nothing if not imaginative and resourceful, and he finds ways to sort through the complicated set of constraints he is handed, while at the same time mentally discarding or recategorizing the bits he doesn’t choose to remember.

Boyd’s writing is magic, for it is big fiction—big and complicated enough for one to want to get lost in for days. It is wry and funny and true enough. It is always a pleasure to have a new novel of his to look forward to—one never knows where he will lead. Certainly I never expected sexual dysfunction and the psychoanalyst’s couch, but that added to our attraction to the immensely-likeable Lysander, young innocent that he was, and wily interpreter of truth that he turned out to be.

I freely admit, however, that I am still not exactly sure if I "got" the the final pieces of the book. I have a feeling I might have misinterpreted the final sleight of hand by our fine, and by this time, thoroughly grown-up Lysander. Boyd could have wiped the smile off our lips by hurting our main man, but he chose not to, and I thank him for that. But Lysander had borne the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" and was far wiser than just by half.
Profile Image for Bettie.
9,989 reviews17 followers
Want to read
April 28, 2015
Description: Vienna. 1913. It is a fine day in August when Lysander Rief, a young English actor, walks through the city to his first appointment with the eminent psychiatrist, Dr. Bensimon. Sitting in the waiting room he is anxiously pondering the nature of his problem when an extraordinary woman enters. She is clearly in distress, but Lysander is immediately drawn to her strange, hazel eyes and her unusual, intense beauty.

Later the same day they meet again, and a more composed Hettie Bull introduces herself as an artist and sculptor, and invites Lysander to a party hosted by her lover, the famous painter Udo Hoff. Compelled to attend and unable to resist her electric charm, they begin a passionate love affair. Life in Vienna becomes tinged with the frisson of excitement for Lysander. He meets Sigmund Freud in a café, begins to write a journal, enjoys secret trysts with Hettie and appears to have been cured.

London, 1914. War is stirring, and events in Vienna have caught up with Lysander. Unable to live an ordinary life, he is plunged into the dangerous theatre of wartime intelligence – a world of sex, scandal and spies, where lines of truth and deception blur with every waking day. Lysander must now discover the key to a secret code which is threatening Britain’s safety, and use all his skills to keep the murky world of suspicion and betrayal from invading every corner of his life.

Moving from Vienna to London’s west end, the battlefields of France and hotel rooms in Geneva, Waiting for Sunrise is a feverish and mesmerising journey into the human psyche, a beautifully observed portrait of wartime Europe, a plot-twisting thriller and a literary tour de force from the bestselling author of Any Human Heart, Restless and Ordinary Thunderstorms.

Opening: Vienna 1913-1914: A Young, Almost Conventionally Handsome Man: IT IS A CLEAR and dazzling summer's day in Vienna.

Profile Image for Book Reader.
4 reviews1 follower
November 28, 2012
Vienna, 1913. Lysander Rief, a young English actor, walks through the city to his first appointment with the eminent psychiatrist Dr Bensimon. Sitting in the waiting room he is anxiously pondering the particularly intimate nature of his neurosis when a young woman enters. She is clearly in distress, but Lysander is immediately drawn to her intense beauty. Back in London, 1914. War is imminent, and events in Vienna have caught up with Lysander in the most damaging way. Unable to live an ordinary life, he is plunged into the dangerous theatre of wartime intelligence – where lines of truth and deception blur with every waking day. Lysander must now discover the key to a secret code which is threatening Britain’s safety, and use all his skills to keep the murky world of suspicion and betrayal from invading every corner of his life. Moving from Vienna to London’s West End, from the battlefields of France to hotel rooms in Geneva, Waiting for Sunrise is a plot-twisting thriller and a literary tour de force.

Not my words. I first read a short story collection by William Boyd. A friend lent it to me on holiday and all I could tell you now is that it featured a lot of sex. I really enjoyed Any Human Heart and Restless very much. Stories that have stuck with me and which struck a chord somewhere. I also read Ordinary Thunderstorms a while ago but couldn’t tell you anything about it now. A nothing of a book.

And that is kind of how I feel about Waiting for Sunrise. I know I won’t remember much about it in a few weeks’ time. Yes, it sets a nice scene but that’s about it. It’s not a bad book, but nor is it a good one. Africa, Vienna and spy type activity seem to be Boyd’s main interests, but few times does he mange to get things exactly right.

What is it this story meant to be? Is it a spy novel? If it is, it needs an editor to chop about a third of it and speed things up. The Vienna section is ponderous and slow. You could get to the point and introduce the necessary elements in much quicker time than Boyd does, introducing us to characters and situations that don’t need to be here. If it’s a ‘literary tour de force’ you could remove a load of the second half of the novel and just set the thing in a Vienna on the brink of war. Referencing Freud (an unnecessary meeting), obscure operas and the streets Rief walks without needing a spy by numbers story

If we wish to follow the blurbs focus, it doesn’t work. Things he could touch on, he lingers over. Things he could linger over, he touches upon. Many characters come and go, most of them not needed. The main ‘romance’ really adds nothing. The spy element is muddled and too much is crammed in for my liking. Was he under pressure to deliver a novel to the publishers?

It isn’t a bad story. The places and period are vivid and well imagined. But this is a tale that one cannot really warm to. One that feels unfinished and rushed.

I can’t say I liked it. Nor can I say I hated it. Again, like Ordinary Thunderstorms it’s a story I’m sure I’ll forget the details of quite quickly. Still, it passed the time well enough.
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