Review: Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd

The name of the game is deception. Real or fake? Truth or lie?

This gritty war time novel takes us all over Europe on an adventure unraveling espionage and flushing out spies.

The novel opens in pre-WWI Vienna where London based actor Lysander Rief is taking a ‘holiday’ to resolve a ‘personal issue’ with a local psychiatrist.

Must of Lysander’s “treatment’ and “cure” involves the psychological term Parallelism. This concept plays a large role in the themes/plot of the novel and with it’s characters.

At his first appointment with the doctor, Lysander meets the frazzled, yet beautiful, Hettie Bull. He is immediately drawn to her but, since he is engaged and seeking treatment for a sexual issue, he quickly dismisses his attraction.

While Lysander might have forgotten about Hettie, Hettie doesn’t forget about Lysander.

By happy ‘accident’, Hettie runs into Lysander at an art store right after his first meeting with the doctor. Hettie invites him to an art gallery opening, and they exchange information though Lysander doesn’t plan on it going any further than that, especially since she is married.

A few weeks go by and Lysander starts making progress in his treatment. An invitation arrives to an art showing for Hettie’s husband. Since he has no prior engagements, Lysander decides to attend the show.

At the show, it is clear there is a lot of sexual tension between Lysander and Hettie. She is also an artist and invites Lysander to her studio so she can sketch him the following week, which he redly accepts. When he arrives, it is clear she has planned quite the seduction scene. Hettie cures him of his sexual deficiencies and he becomes quite smitten with her.

The carry on a lengthy affair when Hettie’s husband finds out. Lysander’s life takes a dramatic turn. He is arrested for raping Hettie and is thrown in jail. The British Embassy comes to his aid but that aid comes with a price.

Lysander flees Vienna, though Italy, returning to London where he returns to his acting career. Then war breaks out.

He is then approached by government agents for a special assignment. His task is to flush out a spy in the War Office. Lysander is now pulled into the world of spies and espionage as a mole.

He enters into a world of underground intelligence where he must rely on his acting skills to reveal the traitor. He does not know who he can trust, fear turns to paranoia. Deception is the name of the game.

Though I  finished this book quickly I am not entirely sure it was what I was expecting. The title was the first thing that caught my eye with this novel. I saw the book trailer on Goodreads and thought the title sounded promising and the summary really hooked me.

Most espionage/spy thrillers are usually WWII based so I was excited to read something with a WWI setting instead. Since I am all about the Edwardian era, this sounded like an easy two thumbs up for me….but I struggled with the novel as a whole.

While I enjoyed the setting and concept, something just didn’t come together for me in the story. It has all the tools for a strong, nail biting thriller but  Lysander isn’t really driven to anything. He just kind of muddles through everything.

I did like reading his disjointed scribbles in his journal when he was faced with a tough decision. I thought that added an exciting element of psychological insight to the story but on the whole I didn’t care for Lysander.

I also had a hard time keeping the period straight in my mind. As I said before, most period espionage thrillers are set in WWII, so that was part of what drew me to this novel….the fact that it was set in WWI made it different and new but I had a hard time remembering that.

I kept having to remind myself that it was 1914-15 and not 1940! It was hard to tell if that was due to writing style or a personal preconceived notion about spy novels….hard to say.

I enjoyed the grittiness of the story….the drug use, the sexuality, the paranoia, and the psychological feel but for me, these themes belonged more in WWII not WWI. Good elements but perhaps wrong historic period.

The narration style seemed disorganized and a little slow. I realize that part of that was meant to highlight the tone and psychological feel of the novel as a whole, but for me the book did not flow like I had hoped. The story rambled which made me confused and tired when it was all said and done. It just didn’t come together for me.

A little refinement and perhaps a historic period setting change would have made this story more enjoyable. This book had all the right ingredients but the wrong presentation.

Challenge/Book Summary:

Book: Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd

  • Kindle Edition, 368 pages
  • Published April 17th 2012 by Harper (first published February 1st 2012)
  • ISBN 0061876763 (ISBN13: 9780061876769)

This book counts toward: NA

  • Hosted by: NA
  • Books for Challenge Completed: NA

Recommendation: 2.5 stars (right ingredients but off presentation)

Genre: Espionage thriller, spy novel, historic fiction, mystery

Memorable lines/quotes:

No human being is entirely innocent (37)

We’re all acting, aren’t we? Almost all the time—each and every one of us.

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