Friday, May 11, 2012

Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd

Waiting for Sunrise

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 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.

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  1. My reaction to this was very much the same. I loved the book and became really engrossed in Lysander's fate but when it came to the end I was puzzled. What had I missed? The feeling was heightened by the article I'd read that suggested that Boyd thought this was his great work. Can we both be wrong?

  2. Actually, I think I know what happened. Boyd gave us lots of clues, but he dodged and weaved so many times, I kind of missed the exact moment when things became apparent. Truthfully, I really like novels that make me trail away in deep perplexity...they insist on a deeper reading.

    spoiler alert

    I think the spy was his mother after all. She was blackmailing Vandenbrook. Why Munro chose to leave Lysander to give the coup de grace when he must have come to suspect the same thing is a mystery. I believe Lysander remembered and applied what Hamo Reif had said: "any fool can 'obey' an order. The clever thing is to interpret it." He decided to keep his family out of it.

    By the way, I'd love to see the article you refer to. Any way of resurrecting a link?

  3. Trish, your comment just emphasises why I need to start blogging - I've stopped going back and thinking about books in that sort of detail. I also need to start keeping references. I read the article when the book first came out and knowing me it was in The Times, The Sunday Times or The Guardian but I can't go any further than that. Sorry.