May 15, 2012
Waiting For Sunrise ~ William Boyd ◊Booker Eligible◊
William Boyd’s newest novel is an intricately plotted, fast paced thriller of a spy novel that begins in the Vienna of 1913, moves to the London of 1914, the Geneva of 1915, and returns to London for the conclusion (1915). It doubles as a love story as well, and Boyd gives us two female protagonists – one loving, accomplished and self-assured (Blanche), the other complicated, alluring and unstable (Hettie). Before we meet them though, we need an introduction to the primary player. And Boyd accomplishes this in an interesting manner. Boyd sets the scene with the “you” of the protagonist until he’s ready (after three paragraphs) to turn the story over to the “he”. This thrusts you right into the story. It’s a surprise (yet it’s not) when our hero Lysander throws over his engagement to Blanche to take up with Hettie. There is nothing not to like about Blanche and if not puzzled (there’s no predicting the human heart) by Lysander’s action, we wish he hadn’t made it as readers will universally predict disaster.
Blanche is an actress on the London stage as is Lysander Bier, a 27-year old young man from a family with a long history in the theater. Lysander has taken a leave from the stage to address a problem of a sexual nature. He seeks out the services of a Dr. Bensimon, one of the new analysts hanging their shingle in Vienna. This includes one Sigmund Freud, who makes a lunch time cameo in Boyd’s Vienna. Lysander’s problem is not one of the ones that may come to mind: premature ejaculation? No. Inability to become aroused? No. Lysander’s problem is that he cannot climax. He runs into another of his doctor’s patients (Hettie Bull) and one thing leads to another…Hettie is a sexual animal: slightly dangerous, provocative and unpredictable. This appears to be just what the doctor ordered for Lysander. She cures him and that problem is solved. A miracle of modern psychoanalysis! But the other side of the coin is Hettie’s saddening sense of loyalty and fidelity. She’s deathly afraid of her lover (painter Udo Hoff), and carries on an alternate affair with Lysander at the off times she can fit him in.
For Boyd, the city of Vienna in these years is personified by Hettie. On the surface, a place
‘…so nice and so pleasant, everybody smiling politely, nobody farting or picking their nose. But below the surface the river is flowing , dark and strong.’
‘THe river os sex.’
As part of his treatment, his doctor asks Lysander to keep a journal of his thoughts. These appear as intermittent chapters entitled “Autobiographical Investigations.” In these he explores some of his earliest memories, his thoughts on Hettie, on acting, and ultimately these “autobiographical” investigations become his notes on his investigations into espionage. What?
Yep. After the sexual peccadilloes and melodrama, Lysander finds himself under arrest on a trumped up charge. He is spirited out of the country and finds himself “owing” people – so he becomes a counter espionage agent – and a good one. He’s an intuitive and a methodical investigator. The investigation into the war office mole is classic espionage thriller stuff in the hands of a master. But Lysander is also an existential spy as well who never stops evaluating, questioning, and remains at bottom troubled by the elusive nature of truth.
Maybe this is what life is like – we try to see clearly but what we see is never clear and is never going to be. The more we strive the murkier it becomes. All we are left with are approximations, nuances, multitudes of plausible explanations.
May 9, 2012
Each year I open up a page specifically for the Man Booker Prize for speculation, news and updates, and commentary on my readings. Although the Booker Longlist won’t be announced until sometimes toward the end of July and the Short List of six in September. The Prize will be announced on October 16th. Eligible novels are selected from “the best novel(s) of the year written by a citizen of the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland“. Don’t forget the “or”! I figured I’d open this page up now since my memory was nudges as I read William Boyd’s latest. This is a partial list of eligible novels that are currently on my radar just because they look interesting or are MR (Must Reads) in my “book”. The notation (KA) = Kimdle available. In an effort to read as many of these as possible (of those that are available), I figured I may as well get started:
- Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd (currently reading)
- Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway (on hand)
- Bring Up The Bodies, the sequel to Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, and much antcipated (MR)(KA) (on Library hold)
- The Chemistry of Tears by Peter Carey, a perennial nominee (MR)(KA) Release Date: May 15 (on Library hold)
- Sarah Thornhill by Kate Grenville (KA) Library hold
- The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen library hold (KA)
- Skios: A Novel by Michael Frayn Release date June 15 (MR)(KA)
- Lionel Asbo by Martin Amis Release Date Aug 21 (KA)
- NW by Zadie Smith (MR)(KA) Release Date: September 4
- Ancient Light by John Banville (KA) Release Date: October 2
- Toby’s Room by Pat Barker (KA) Release Date: October 2
- Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan (MR) Release date Nov 13
That’s a start. I’ll add-to as relevant.