William Boyd (Any Human Heart; Brazzaville Beach) is a dynamite storyteller, and Waiting for Sunrise is no exception. If Graham Greene were this novel's author, he would likely call it one of his "entertainments"--those novels of not quite cosmic significance, usually thrillers or tales of espionage. In Boyd's hands, this thriller with psychological undertones is both important and entertaining.
It is 1913 in Vienna and Lysander Rief, a young English actor-the Shakespearean allusion to the confused young hero of A Midsummer Night's Dream will prove quite apt--has come seeking psychotherapy for a troubling and very personal ailment. He sees Dr. Bensimon, a student of Freud, and through the application of Bensimon's "Parallelism" technique and a little help from a friend, he is cured. (Freud even makes a cameo appearance, in which he discredits Bensimon's theory--which Boyd has made up out of whole cloth.) Basically, Bensimon teaches Lysander that when something bad has happened to us and caused us to become neurotic, we simply revisit that event and change the script. A neat trick, one which Lysander employs to great benefit.
He meets Hettie, a beautiful, enigmatic, high-strung sculptor, at Bensimon's office and begins an affair with her. She is living with an artist; when he finds out about Hettie's infidelity, she accuses Lysander of rape. The charge is taken seriously, Lysander is jailed and the real story begins.
Lysander is spirited out of jail, and out of Vienna, by mysterious British diplomats who, back in England, offer him an opportunity to repay his debt by engaging in espionage. The scenario appeals to his actorly persona, but he is unprepared for brief military service that results in actually killing combatants, so must use "Parallelism" once again to re-think that episode. The labyrinthine plot thickens considerably until Lysander does not know who is on whose side. Hettie suddenly appears in England, telling him that he has a son he will never see and that she "forgives" him for leaving her. How she got to England, and what she's doing there, is an additional layer to the mystery.
In this mesmerizing book, Boyd creates Vienna on the page--its look, sound, fashion, cuisine and ambience--then moves the reader seamlessly to England and the First World War. Waiting for Sunrise is a tour de force that keeps the reader guessing and enjoying the game. --Valerie Ryan
Shelf Talker: A young British actor goes to Vienna for psychotherapy and ends up spying for England in a well-plotted, thoroughly entertaining tale.