Another Modern Epic

Waiting for Sunrise, by William Boyd. Harper, 353 pp. $25.99

William Boyd writes epics. There is no way around this statement. And his latest, Waiting for Sunrise, is no different.

We start in Vienna, 1913. Our hero, Lysander Rief, is an English actor who has come to Austria in search of psychoanalysis. It is the time of Freud and his doctor, John Bensimon, is most intrigued by Rief’s ailment.

At the same time, Rief meets Esther “Hettie” Bull, an electric young woman with “strange, light brown, hazel eyes. Like a lion’s eyes.” Miss Bull immediately captures his attention, and over the next three months they find themselves in a secret, passionate love affair.

One evening as he’s eating dinner, Rief is called to the door to meet two policemen, who promptly arrest him for rape. Hettie is pregnant and her common-law-husband, a temperamental artist by the name of Hoff, has found out about the tryst. In desperation, she claims that Rief took advantage of her. Vienna justice does not take the subject of rape lightly.

Here is the problem: If he brings forth the evidence that the affair was mutual, then Hoff will abandon Hettie and their child. His lawyer already knows, however, that he has the evidence. He has one option: run.

Over the course of the next three years, Rief becomes tied up in the fringes of this past he tries so desperately to keep behind him. In addition, he finds himself drawn into the impending war, and the secrets that it contains.

Waiting for Sunrise reads much like Boyd’s previous novel, Any Human Heart, which was created into a PBS Masterpiece Theatre mini-series. Boyd is flawless in his character and plot development: the characters appear as if they could have once lived right across the pond. This book, and this author, are destined to be classics.

Waiting for Sunrise is available in hardcover.

This review was originally written for the Spencer Daily Reporter


About katepadilla

I write for the Spencer Daily Reporter in Spencer, Iowa. I keep blogs lifebythebooks, Save Me, San Francisco, and Beauty and Beast Buy a House. I'm also hard at work writing a short story collection inspired by the music of Train.

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