I was looking for books that took place in Vienna shortly after the turn of the 20th century. I had read the LA Times book review of Franzen’s Kraus Project and was particularly interested in his assertion that “Our situation looks quite a bit like Vienna’s in 1910, except that newspaper technology (telephone, telegraph, the high-speed printing press) has been replaced by digital technology and Viennese charm by American coolness.”
I hadn’t thought that another time in history might echo what we’re experiencing now. I wanted to dive in. And I wanted to start with fiction.
Some searching led me to William Boyd’s 2012 novel Waiting for Sunrise which obviously wasn’t the best for my project (only the book’s first third takes place in Vienna) but it seemed an easy read and I had never read a book by Boyd.
I dug in. I rather enjoyed his bit taking place in Vienna. It did give some of the cultural overview that I was looking for — what with the charm that Franzen mentioned and psychotherapy being all the rage. There’s one cheap bit where the main character, Lysander, runs into Dr. Freud, but we’ll excuse that.
The Vienna part paced nicely. It introduced a love interest, some shady characters and a psychotherapist, all tying Lysander to Vienna while he had a woman waiting for him back in London (his home). Of course, too, he was there to solve a problem of, well, not being able to get it up — so we have some personal strife to add to the drama.
And drama we get as the Vienna part comes to an end. Lysander is accused of rape of his new Viennese mistress and love interested and he must flee thanks in part of the shady character he met earlier. Alright, alright, a little more a thriller than I bargained for — but I should have expected that with Boyd.
The rest of the book dives into WWI London (and Geneva for a bit) and some politics surrounding that. There’s a spy plot, more drama added as the Viennese love interest finds herself in London and a whole lot of belief that needs to be suspended as the plot unravels.
Fine. It had been a while since such an easy read (in terms of the depth of the text) found its way into my hands and I think all in all I rather enjoyed it. Boyd has some lines, certainly has the ability to tell a story and resolve it as quickly as it needs to be (it’s only a few hundred pages) and still give some reasons to empathize with Lysander.
Overall prognosis: Ehhh, why not? Wouldn’t suggest it, but wouldn’t tell you to put it away later.