Review: Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd

This book has been on my to-read list for some time, so when I came across it in Poundland - I kid you not, they sell books there now too - I couldn't wait to get stuck in.

Lysander Rief, an actor, is visiting Vienna for psychological help with a problem of a personal nature. What else happens to him during his stay there no one could ever have predicted, and sets off a chain of events that are to change his life forever. Next thing he knows, "Lysander finds himself entangled in the dangerous world of wartime intelligence- a world of sex, scandal and spies that is slowly, steadily, permeating every corner of his life" (blurb).

The reluctant spy is a theme often covered in fiction, but the scene is set so well that you can't help but want Lysander to succeed. He may well be untrained, but Lysander's theatrical background comes in useful, and I liked his use of disguises. I also liked the effective use of diary sections to give an insight into Lysander's thoughts and character.

I read this alongside Boyd's James Bond Novel Solo, and I found this a lot more enjoyable. I loved the era and the choice of settings, and the characters, if not very appealing, were well developed. The only female character that I actually liked was Florence Duchesne, which is odd considering her actions in the novel. Hettie was irritating, Blanche was bland, and Lysander was little more than a womaniser once his 'problem' was sorted out; the only character deserving of praise was Lysander's uncle Hamo. But then you don't have to like the hero in a story - just look at James Bond.

The story takes a while to get going, but I never found myself bored, more curious as to where the plot was heading. It is easy to follow, gripping in parts, and I didn't predict the outcome, which is always a bonus in novels like this one.

The one thing that let this novel down was its ending; there were too many loose ends for my liking. The story may have been over as far as his intelligence career was concerned, but I wanted some closure on Lysander's personal life - did he get married? And what about Hettie and Lothar? I got the sense that it wasn't yet over, possibly because it wasn't. As Boyd's other novel Restless demonstrates, the life of a spy can never return to normal.

4/5 stars: a gripping tale of a man thrust into the world of espionage set against the backdrop of the First World War.


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