This is my review of Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd.
Actor son of a famous, long-dead thespian, Lysander Rief travels to Freud's Vienna to seek the advice of an English psychoanalyst on a sensitive personal problem. Since it is 1913, we know that the course of his life is about to be transformed for the worse, but before that, fate strikes a very different unexpected blow. With his fertile imagination and gift for spinning words into vivid and original descriptions or moments of farce with no apparent effort, William Boyd creates an entertaining read for the first half. He employs interesting little devices, as in the opening chapter where Lysander is introduced as he might appear to a stranger, although the next scene shows how many of the assumptions based on appearances are false. At other points, the author presents the dialogue in the form of a play, reflecting not only Lysander's employment, but also the way he and those around him are often playing a part in "real" life. The downside of this somewhat flippant, facetious approach is that at times we may not care about the characters' troubles as much as we should.
It is not until halfway through that the novel becomes the spy thriller vaunted on the front cover, and for me it is not improved in the process. At this point, the plot is too close to a Buchanish derring-do of over-complicated implausible events. I began to lose interest, but read on in the hopes of a satisfying dénouement which is in fact less surprising and "clever" than some of the twists on the way. Perhaps the strongest aspect is that Lysander is left a sad and wiser man accepting life's ambiguity, "we try to see clearly but what we see is never clear and is never going to be", one "happier with the dubious comfort of the shadows".