Saturday, 14 December 2013

Book Review: Waiting For Sunrise (William Boyd)

English: Portrait of the author William Boyd
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I hate to do this. I have long been an admirer of William Boyd's stuff, but this book was one I had to force myself through, often finding myself skimming. It's always such a disappointment to approach a book by an author whose work you've enjoyed and admired (A Good Man in Africa and An Ice Cream War, his first two novels, had me hooked and I've enjoyed his other work since) and then find yourself increasingly alienated as you realise this just isn't, well, 'doing it' for you.

Waiting for Sunrise is set in the period just prior to, and during, the First World War. Lysander Rief is sexually dysfunctional. He visits his psychologist and is entranced by a society beauty he meets there and then joins up when war breaks out. He enters the intelligence service and has to save Britain by discovering a code.

The main character, Rief struck me as being all over the place - I often found myself drawn up to ponder why on earth would he do that or say this? I suppose part of that is because little personality shines through that isn't self-obsessed and obnoxious. A sexual predator with little love for women, Rief is half Austrian but not interred or even interviewed as war breaks out, in fact he is recruited by military intelligence.

There doesn't seem to be much structure on offer here, it reads as if it was made up as we went along. Rief in Austria, Rief the sexual failure, Rief the actor, Rief the upper class twit, Rief the soldier, Rief the spy, Rief the lover, Rief the boozer. They none of them appear to be going anywhere cohesive that follows a growing narrative, they just wander around in Brownian patterns. And they all become a tad exhausting.

There are echoes of TE Lawrence in Rief - his superiority, his drawling insolence at a senior officer over whom he has a hold, his decision to become a private rather than take the commission he could so easily have achieved. And yet they are only echoes - and it's David Lean's Lawrence, not the man himself - there's nothing of the complexity and conflict that make either the real Lawrence or O'Toole's portrayal interesting. Rief isn't, well, driven to anything. He just muddles through.

I liked the setting and I liked the language, Boyd manages to capture the clipped accents of upper class schoolboy amateur spies nicely. There are elements of this book that are brilliant and reflect the talent and experience a much-loved novelist with a stellar career behind him.

But the thing as a whole rambled and just didn't come together for me. I came out of it feeling a little tired and perhaps a tad puzzled. For dark wartime espionage you can't better Alan Furst...

Three stars, then.

Enhanced by Zemanta

No comments:

From The Dungeons

Book Marketing And McNabb's Theory Of Multitouch

(Photo credit: Wikipedia ) I clearly want to tell the world about A Decent Bomber . This is perfectly natural, it's my latest...