William Boyd's latest novel Waiting for Sunrise was one of my top books last year, and as it has just come out in paperback this is a good opportunity to talk about it again and to give away a copy! A slightly edited version of my original post on it follows, then below that are details for entering the draw.
Waiting for Sunrise begins on "a clear and dazzling summer's day in Vienna [in 1913] in a skewed pentangle of lemony sunshine"; there is a "stirring of potential in the air, that possibility of audacity", a brightness that seems to bring with it hope and purpose. Then as the story unfolds, at different junctures and for different reasons, the main character is quite literally "waiting for sunrise", waiting for day to lighten darkness, and metaphorically waiting for dawning realisation, clarity, waiting to see clearly through the mist and murk of obfuscation, for all is not what it seems, and clouds have moved in front of the sun, casting doubt as well as shadow. For this reason as well as many others, the book's ending is particularly apt; will our man eventually find that elusive 'golden afternoon', or will his days be dark and dreich?
As you'll have deduced from the above, this is a story about truth and lies, identity and re-invention, about trying to discover who is really who and what is what, and it's no coincidence that the novel's 'hero', Lysander Rief, is a young actor from a well known theatrical family, a man for whom disguise and assumed personality, 'front' and feints, are all part of his stock-in-trade, something he will rely upon heavily in the dangerous world into which he falls by chance.
Lysander has gone to Vienna to consult a psychoanalyst about a sexual problem, and while Sigmund Freud himself appears in a cameo, Lysander's therapist Dr. Bensimon is a practitioner of Parallelism, an adjunct of Freudianism, a theory and technique he has devised to help his patients deal with trauma or neurosis by replacing their painful memories with a new 'reality'. (The author himself explains his invention in a brief video, and it's a remarkably plausible construct). While in Vienna undergoing treatment, Lysander becomes obsessively involved with an English sculptress called Hettie Bull, and it is this relationship which - as war in Europe becomes inevitable - leads him into a world of espionage and treachery, of intelligence-gathering and feats of derring-do.
It's clear that meticulous research informs and underpins every stage, every layer of this complex book, and William Boyd is such a master at setting a scene, placing a telling detail, 'seasoning' his narrative with just the right amount of factual flavour to balance and ground the fictional substance of the text, that his material is beautifully shaped and works to fully support his plot. As well as being astute, inventive and intelligent, he's a writer with an instinctive feel for rhythm and pace and a gift for making the reader want to turn the page while still being fully engaged with the deeper themes of the book and the ideas behind them, so his stories just flow and it's pure pleasure - on several levels - to float along with them.
This is a thrilling spy story and a portrait of Europe at a time of enormous change, a bildungsroman and a picture of the human psyche under pressure, a book springing from intellectual heft and virtuoso narrative technique, so no wonder it featured in my 'best of 2012' list.
I gave away a copy of the hardback last year and had great fun with that competition which played on the book's title. I asked everyone who wanted to enter the draw to leave a comment in answer to the question "What are you waiting for?", and the responses were super because they covered big, important, serious things, and simple, little everyday ones, so let's do the same again. There are no geographical or other restrictions, so to put your name in the hat just tell us what you're waiting for, and I'll draw a winner soon.