“Waiting for Sunrise” by William Boyd (2012) – 353 pages
“Waiting for Sunrise” starts out as a picaresque novel about young Englishman Lysander Rief who in 1913 is on an extended visit to Vienna, Austria in order to get treatment for his specific sexual problem with a quite famous psychoanalyst who has studied under the master, Sigmund Freud. These early chapters are like a leisurely stroll through Vienna at the time with this likeable young man. However, as the novel progresses, the Great War begins, Lysander returns to London, and “Waiting for Sunrise” changes into a taut spy thriller.
I first started reading the novelist William Boyd in the early Eighties with his very first novels “A Good Man in Africa” and “The Ice-Cream War”. I was bowled over by the great humor of these two novels, and Boyd immediately became one of my favorite writers. However as the years went by, Boyd put less humor into his novels, and I became less enchanted with them. Now it had been probably a decade since I had last read Boyd when I decided to read “Waiting for Sunrise”.
I am not one of those who believe that novelists necessarily get more experienced and better with each novel they write. In fact, I am more inclined to believe that the act of novel-writing is similar to chess or mathematics where the practitioners reach their peak around age 35. Still I have encountered many, many exceptions to this rule where much older people have written great novels. Let’s just say that I don’t believe that writers automatically improve with each novel they write.
Young writers are more likely to put all their energy, enthusiasm, and originality into their early works, because the whole experience of writing a novel is new to them. Young writers are more likely to shoot for the moon. Frequently these qualities shine through in the writers’ early work. After a writer has written a number of novels, writing another may become a task rather than a compelling experience.
There is nothing very wrong with “Waiting for Sunrise”. The transition from picaresque to spy thriller is rough, but other than that the story is well-written. I much preferred the early picaresque part of the novel to the spy thriller, but that’s probably just me. However my overall impression of “Waiting for Sunrise” is that Boyd probably has written several novels similar to this one before, and that a certain authorial excitement in the new and different is missing. Been there, done that.