Posted by: davidjmarlow | 16/10/2012

Waiting for sunrise…

I tried to take a few days off last week – which effectively means I read a couple of novels.

One of my all-time favourite books is Brazzaville Beach by William Boyd. As I remember it ( and I read it many years ago), the combination of the social anthropology of the ape colony, the Angolan civil war setting, alongside conservation, sustainable development, and the intensely personal journey of the female protagonist, provide a totally engaging immersive read. That she retreats to lick her wounds to a small villa on Brazzaville Beach mirrors the sort of escape about which I often dream, and which, hitherto, I have not had the courage to actually undertake.

I think I have read all of Boyd’s novels since being enthralled by Brazzaville Beach, and many of them are wonderful. Any Human Heart, Armadillo and Restless are particular favourites. Others, however, whilst always readable, are less engaging.

Into that category falls Boyd’s latest – Waiting for Sunrise – my first literary excursion of last week.

We follow Lysander Rief, a professional actor through psychoanalysis in Vienna just before the outbreak of world war one (1914), and his subsequent exploits for British intelligence in Switzerland and back in London during the first couple of years of the war.

[WARNING: SPOILERS] Boyd’s writing flows as effortlessly as ever, but the overall narrative comes across precisely as if it was too much effort to do well. For instance, a chance meeting in a Viennese cafe with Sigmund Freud, and a lengthy adventure to the Allies front line are contrived red herrings that irritate as self-indulgent and lazy.

Too many key issues are left unresolved. Both Rief’s lover, with whom he might or might not have a son – Lothar (!!), AND the intelligence chief who runs him during the war are concurrently treated by the same psychoanalyst as Rief when he is in Vienna. But, neither of their neuroses and how these contribute to their respective roles in the plot are ever resolved. And the “coincidence” by which Lysander’s investigations exposes his mum (Austrian but second marriage into English aristocracy) as a (probable) German spy who then conveniently drowns herself (because that is apparently what Austrians do if they are found out) is…well the clichés escape me….

By the end, I guess I felt both Lysander and the readers are as much waiting for sunrise as we were 400 pages earlier…and to give him the benefit of the doubt, perhaps that is Boyd’s whole point about life and human understanding.

By most measures – personal and professional – 2012 has been one of those sort of years to date. Although there have been notable exceptions – and I am extremely grateful to clients, partners and friends who have stimulated them – the economic development agendas that I love have been as contrived and sterile in 2012 as in any year that I can remember.

In summary, 2012, so far, has definitely been a ‘waiting for sunrise’ year. Like Boyd’s novel, though,  whether my wait is for a renewed, vital economic development landscape; whether for a flight and retreat to my own version of Brazzaville Beach; or whether it will just be left hanging….is the major issue I have to resolve between now and a better 2013!


  1. […] hypocrisy weighs heavily on my demeanour. But, as with the ‘unbearable lightness’ and ‘waiting for sunrise’ blogs, I try to be resilient and to travel positively. It is not inconceivable that Huhne and […]

  2. […] At this point, if politics is fundamentally a problem of presenting complex arguments clearly and persuasively (and England’s problem is poor quality political leaders), I could try my luck in Scandinavia’s European progressive social democracies. If ALL politics is soap opera then it may have to be flight to Brazzaville Beach. […]

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