Wrongly accused of rape, Lysander Rief, a young English actor, finds his life taking a dangerous turn when the men who help him escape a conviction recruit him for a lethal mission that leads him to a traitor who is linked to his family.
Waiting for Sunrise, William Boyd’s 12th novel, opens on the streets of Vienna in August 1913, on the eve of World War I. Lysander Rief, a young actor, arrives in the birthplace of psychoanalysis to seek a cure for his sexual ailment, only to embark on an odyssey of sexual discovery. He begins treatment with one of Freud’s disciples — and an affair with a fellow patient, the volatile Hettie Bell — all the while exploring the depths of his Oedipal relationship with his glamorous mother, Lady Anna Faulkner. Things take a sinister turn when Bell accuses Rief of rape, and he is drawn into an intricate web of espionage and deceit.
It is a clear and dazzling summer’s day in Vienna. You are standing in a skewed pentangle of lemony sunshine at the sharp corner of Augustiner Strasse and Augustinerbastei, across from the opera house, indolently watching the world pass by you, waiting for someone or something to catch and hold your attention, to generate a tremor of interest. There’s a curious frisson in the city’s atmosphere today, almost spring-like, though spring is long gone, but you recognize that slight vernal restlessness in the people going by, that stirring of potential in the air, that possibility of audacity — though what audacity they might be, here in Vienna, who can say? Still, your eyes are open, you are unusually poised, ready for anything — any crumb, any flung coin — that the world might casually toss your way.
And then you see — to your right — a young man striding out of the Hofgarten park. He is in his late twenties, almost handsome in a conventional way, but your eye is drawn to him because he is hatless, an anomaly in this busy crowd of Viennese folk, all hatted, men and women. And, as this young, almost conventionally handsome man walks purposefully past you, you note his fine brown, breeze-blown hair, his pale grey suit and his highly polished ox-blood shoes. He’s of medium height but broad–shouldered with something of a sportsman’s build and balance, you register, as he goes by, a couple of paces from you. He’s clean-shaven — also unusual in this place, the city of facial hair — and you observe that his coat is well tailored, cut tight at the waist. Folds of an ice-blue silk handkerchief spill easily from his breast pocket. There is something fastidious and deliberate about the way he dresses himself — just as he’s almost conventionally handsome, so is he also almost a dandy. You decide to follow him for a minute or so, vaguely intrigued and having nothing better to do.
At the entry to Michaeler Platz he stops abruptly, pauses, stares at something stuck to a hoarding and then continues on his way, briskly, as if he’s running slightly late for an appointment. You follow him around the square and into Herrengasse — the slanting sunrays picking out the details on the grand, solid buildings, casting sharp, dark shadows on the caryatids and the friezes, the pediments and the cornices, the balusters and the architraves. He stops at the kiosk selling foreign newspapers and magazines. He chooses The Graphic and pays for it, unfolding and opening it to glance at the headlines. Ah, he’s English — how uninteresting your curiosity is waning. You turn round and wander back towards the pentangular patch of sunlight you abandoned on the corner, hoping some more stimulating possibilities will come your way, leaving the young Englishman to stride on to wherever and whomever he was so intently heading …
Photo: Sacher Hotel – 1910, Vienna