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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

A Hall Of Mirrors

Waiting for Sunrise - William Boyd, Roger May

Like Boyd's other recent and highly successful novels, Waiting For Sunrise is the story of a relatively ordinary individual caught up in extraordinary events. Opening in Vienna in nineteen fifteen, it begins with Lysander Rief, a not overly-successful English actor, sitting in the consulting room of Dr Bensimon, a psycho-analyst, to whom he has come for help with sexual problems that originate in a childhood burdened with confusion and deception.

A chance acquaintance with Hetty, a young Englishwoman, in the psycho-analyst's waiting room, precipitates a passionate affair that will profoundly alter the course of Lysander's life. In his childhood, as he confesses to Dr Bensimon, he was the cause of an innocent young man losing his livelihood and being falsely accused of sexually molesting him. So there's a certain justice when some months later he himself is falsely accused of sexual assault by Hetty, and is obliged to flee Vienna in disguise.

His escape is facilitated by Monroe, a military attaché at the British embassy. Later, when Boyd has returned to London and believes he has put the incident behind him, Monroe resurfaces, requiring a service from Boyd in repayment of his debt. The First World War is now in full swing and someone is revealing details of the British Army's plans to the enemy. Monroe wants Lysander to unmask a traitor in the highest echelons of the British Army

Like all good spy stories Waiting For Sunrise presents the reader with a a hall of mirrors. The psycho-analyst's strategy for curing Lysander is the construction of an imaginary parallel world in which he must learn to believe in a different past. A similar process is now required by Lysander's new career in espionage with its assumed identities and false trails. In addition, there's also a complex web of literary allusions that adds yet another teasing layer of meaning and commentary.

It's an highly entertaining story with some wonderful description, both of character and setting. But, for me, it's a little bit too much of a game. It's extremely well-researched and well-constructed but it didn't move me in any way, or leave me feeling that I've witnessed anything other than a formidable display of craftsmanship. From many other authors that would be enough. I just think that Boyd is capable of a great deal more.