For the past week and a half I have been sunning myself in France on a family holiday which means I’ve had 10 days of unadulterated reading pleasure. While my younger brother and sister have raced each other through the first 3 Harry Potter books (Jodie, nine, I decided it was time she was introduced to the children’s literary legacy and Ben, fifteen, better late than never), I have read three very different novels.
‘Waiting For Sunrise’ by William Boyd was the second novel I read from the small selection I brought with me but I’ve decided to review it first, perhaps because it’s the easiest to write about.
I thought it was excellent. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it is one of the most gripping novels I’ve read in a while – it even came close to the same level of ‘gripping’ as the Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson which coincidentally I read last time I was in France. However I can’t say that it hooked me right from the start. I was intrigued but not hooked. I was intrigued because something about the book created the feeling that the narrative was just on the verge of taking a wildly different turn. And I wasn’t wrong. The novel slowly draws you in and before I realised, it had become a tangled web of mystery and intrigue that makes it truly worthy of the label, ‘a page-turner’.
But before this happens the narrative is only a fraction short of obscure. The first chapter begins in second person address, asking you to imagine yourself on the streets of Vienna watching the protagonist, before switching to third person narration that makes up the main body of narrative in the rest of the novel. Although only being a short interlude, I disliked this unconventional narration immediately and so my first impressions of the book were not fantastic. I can see what Boyd was trying to do here – it does instantly focus your attention on the protagonist, Lysander Rief – but I felt that the shift in narration left me feeling disjointed from the story already even though it had barely begun. It felt as though I had been introduced to a character which was immediately killed off and deemed irrelevant as they added nothing to the narrative.
My uncertainty about the novel continued through the opening chapters as Lysander’s reason for being in Vienna is revealed (very odd – who would think to write about that?) and several unusual characters are introduced. I was left wondering, ‘where on earth is he going with this?’
Yet, in the end, Boyd’s unusual storyline and characters are what sets this book apart. Lysander Rief is not your average, run of the mill protagonist. His quirks and those of the other characters made them more interesting and added to the mystery later in the novel as it made it harder to discern who was really doing what and where each of their loyalties really lay.
I thought the chapters devoted to ‘autobiographical investigations’ were brilliant, allowing the random yet logical thought process of Rief to run alongside the narrative. It gave a further insight into the character so that Lysander became someone you felt you knew intimately. Once the story progressed I liked the link back to his earlier time in Vienna and that something which was started because of his sessions with the psychiatrist became a way of revealing the ever-more complicating connections that Rief discovered.
The feeling of ‘where is this going?’ never really left but instead of feeling bewildered, I began to be increasingly gripped as the story progressed. As the plot complicated, the suspense increased. There were plenty of unexpected twists and it was completely unpredictable so that by the latter third of the novel, I really did not want to put it down and I was still guessing when the plot was finally resolved. This book is a true thriller. I would definitely recommend!