A Very Modern Man

Edmund Gordon

  • Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd
    Bloomsbury, 368 pp, £18.99, February 2012, ISBN 978 1 4088 1774 2

Lysander Rief, the hero of Waiting for Sunrise, arrives in Vienna in 1913 to undergo psychoanalysis, and stays there for a few months; after his final session he goes to a café, where he notices ‘a man a few tables away, wearing a tweed suit and an old-fashioned cravat tie, reading a newspaper and smoking a cigar … His beard was … trimmed with finical neatness.’ Lysander knows enough about psychoanalysis to recognise its founding father, but he can’t be expected to place the not yet famous people he encounters in Vienna. When a young man with unkempt dark hair approaches him at a rally and says of the politicians on stage: ‘They just don’t understand … Empty words, hot air,’ Lysander thinks him simply ‘a vagrant, a madman’ – but the reader will probably guess that he’s the 24-year-old Adolf Hitler. And, although Lysander has ‘a lot of native brainpower’, there are ‘huge gaps in his knowledge of general culture’, so when at an art gallery he spots a ‘bearded fellow in a paint-spattered smock as if he’d just come from his studio’, he doesn’t identify him as Gustav Klimt, as we’re supposed to, but only thinks that it’s ‘absurd to demarcate yourself [as an artist] so obviously’.

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