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Vienna, Summer 1913: In the psychoanalyst’s tiny waiting room of uncomfortable leather chairs, young British actor Lysander Rief meets an impulsive, reckless, drug-addicted and utterly irresistible sculptress called Hettie and a mysterious diplomat with military bearing called Alwyn Munro. Modernity comes as a jolt with the apocalyptical terror of newly mechanized war, which Lysander witnesses in detail at a foray in the trenches on the Western Front, and in all its horrifying logistical banality at the War Offices, where armies are like cities. As a spy thriller, the novel is gripping enough, although perhaps a little too strewn with coincidences for my taste.
Given the vivid details in the narrative, it is surprising to learn that the soft-spoken Boyd had only visited Vienna for three short trips while researching the novel, and had never been here before writing his 1995 short story The Transfigured Night. The catastrophe that lay ahead overshadows our appreciation of just how vibrantly multi-cultural Vienna of the fin de siecle was. But what does he think of Vienna now, the city we love, with its vibrant arts scene and bohemian night-haunts? THE VIENNA REVIEW is a publication of Vienna Review Publishing GmbH, Vienna, Austria, a journal of news, culture, lifestyle and opinion covering the life and times of Vienna, Austria and the wider Central Europen region.
These two brief encounters that open William Boyd’s new novel, Waiting for Sunrise, will plunge the young man into a dangerous world of sexual obsession and military intrigue.

It begins with that sun-drenched opening in Vienna and ends on a gloomy, dark, rain-battered day in London in 1915.
But the jolt is also  felt in people’s consciousness, as a world of comfortable certainties is replaced by one of murky shadows. A winner of multiple literary awards and a nominee for the prestigious Booker Prize, Boyd, who turned 60 in March, has no problems with framing his ideas in a page-turner.
Also, the study of war as a monstrous bureaucratic machine is a fresh take on the much-described World War I.  Yet, perhaps because I prefer sex to fighting, it’s the early scenes set in bohemian Vienna that left the greatest impression. In the prim Pension Kriwanek where Lysander dwells, the landlady uses only two adjectives – “pleasant” and “nice” – but her clumsy, shy maid Traudl prostitutes herself to the residents, including a Slovenian Hussar called Wolfram Rozman who tells Lysander about the “river of sex” coursing strongly beneath the city. Her partner Udo Hoff, a broad-shouldered man who rails about the empty fakery of the Ringstra?e, shaves his head like Kokoschka. But the city had long haunted his imagination, he said, particularly the early years of the 20th century, “when the old world ended and the new world – our world – began”.  While researching Waiting for Sunrise, he spent hours studying old street maps and guide-books, trying to imagine to feel of the pre-war city. But for a while, the city of the psychoanalysts and the figurative painters, writers like Stefan Zweig  and philosophers like Ludwig Wittgenstein, really was the cultural pulse of Europe.

One problem is cured and several others are unleashed, as the insecure fop we meet in the opening pages develops into a 20th-century Don Juan, escape artist and master of disguise, and a World War I spy, as he searches for clarity in a world of lies, half-truths.
The title refers to Lysander’s fruitless quest for illumination in a world that offers up only more questions. I write strong, complicated narratives and if you write that sort of novel, things have to happen.”  He cites Grahame Greene and Joseph Conrad, but it may be John Le Carre, who’s back in fashion after last year’s cinematic adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, who seems the best model for the use of espionage thrillers to explore character. Boyd announced himself as a talent back in 1981 with his first novel, the Somerset Maugham Award-winning A Good Man In Africa, in which he recreated the atmosphere of 1960’s West Africa with a few well-chosen details that let you see, smell and feel the setting.
A voracious reader, he devoured every book he could find, fact or fiction, about that episode of Viennese life. A few years ago everyone was flocking to Barcelona, but now Berlin is the cool place to live.

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