Saturday, 26 January 2013

William Boyd's Waiting for Sunrise - the Bond connection

In the course of researching and writing his novel, Waiting for Sunrise, William Boyd acquired a library of some 200 books. These provided Boyd with the necessary facts about the places, people and events that formed the backdrop to the novel's narrative, or otherwise inspired him. Among the books were Frederic Manning's First World War novel, Her Privates We, and AJP Taylor's history, The First World War. Then there were the spy classics The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, by John le Carré, Ashenden, by Somerset Maugham, and William Boyd's favourite Bond novel, From Russia, With Love. Reading Waiting for Sunrise, it's hard to find aspects of From Russia, With Love, but there are certainly passages which wouldn't be out of place in a Bond novel.
 
The events of Waiting for Sunrise begin in Vienna in 1913, as stage actor Lysander Rief seeks the advice of a renowned psychiatrist. In the doctor's waiting room he meets a beguiling woman, Hettie Bull, and they soon begin an affair that ends with Rief arrested on a charge instigated by Hettie Bull's (other) lover. With help from two intelligence officers, Munro and Fyfe-Miller, Rief escapes to Britain. But he soon finds himself caught up with the start of the Great War, and an encounter with Munro and Fyfe-Miller leads him to assume a false identity in Switzerland as a spy seeking a key to intercepted coded messages. Back in London, Rief turns his attention to a traitor leaking information on ordnance and field positions, as indicated by the deciphered codes, and learns that the truth might be uncomfortably close to home.

William Boyd said that From Russia, With Love captured “some of the paranoia of the Cold War”. One could suggest, too, that Fleming's novel, with its Istanbul-set sequences, inspired some of the mood of the events in Austria and Switzerland, both novels conveying, for instance, the essence of a tourist city's murky underbelly. I also thought of Bond's gripping journey on the Orient Express when I read the description of Lysander Rief's escape from Switzerland to France on an express steamer around Lake Geneva. Boarding the steamer doesn't stop Rief feelings of suspicion and danger, just as similar threats accompany Bond's journey.

There was one other aspect in Waiting for Sunrise that I thought particularly Fleming-esque: detailed descriptions of meals. For instance, before he's about to leave for the front line in northern France to begin his mission, he lunches with Munro and has an excellent coq au vin, a carafe of Beaujolais, a selection of cheeses, a tarte tatin, and a Calvados. Later, in a café in Geneva, Rief dines on the menu de jour, comprising a clear soup, blanquette de veal, cheese and an apple tart. The wine, we learn, was rough and on the sour side. Back in England, at a hotel in Hythe on the Kent coast, Rief notes the evening menu – classic English fare of a saddle of lamb, devilled kidneys, and Dover sole. James Bond would no doubt approve.

As in the Bond books, the descriptions of food in Waiting for Sunrise add detail to the settings, juxtapose the everyday with the extraordinary, and, in Fleming's view, stimulate the readers' senses. William Boyd's own James Bond novel will be published in September 2013. Judging by a previous novel of his, Any Human Heart (in which Fleming makes an appearance), and now Waiting for Sunrise, Boyd is well prepared for the task of bringing life to James Bond's world.

1 comment:

  1. Reading this now, starts off a bit slow, picks up when he reaches London.

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