WW1 spy story: Lysander Rief is an actor, visiting Vienna in 1913 in search of a psychoanalytic cure for a sexual problem he has. He gets rather tangled up in a messy affair and calls on the British embassy for help. He manages to escape the country but as the war starts he's approached by the people who helped him to track down a spy.
I've got Restless on the bookshelf and haven't started that yet - not sure why: perhaps because I watched the TV adaption and wanted to leave a bit of a gap before reading the book. But saw this in the bookshop and couldn't resist it.
The book is quite evocative of the period - Vienna seems quite convincing (so far as I can tell). Lysander visits a pupil of Freud (and actually meets Freud as well at one point - shades of the Any Human Heart) and is treated, apparently successfully, using a technique called "parallelism", which he later uses to help him overcome other problems relating to the spy mission he finds himself on.
The book didn't have the twist that I sort of expected it might: I think I was expecting a Sweet Tooth type reveal, but the spy plot was more-or-less straightforward. I suppose perhaps the more interesting aspect was the story of Lysander's personal life and relationships. He does seem to get on pretty well with women, considering the psychological problem he starts off with.
There were some interesting ways in which Lysander used his training as an actor to fulfil his role as spy - not just his ability to pretend to be confident or whatever when he's not, but the way he can dress up and alter his appearance: one nice touch was when he put pebbles in his shoes in order to be able to affect a convincing limp.
It was very readable: I rushed through it in a day. It had echoes of Any Human Heart with the wartime/espionage themes, but it felt like a much smaller book than that: not because it's got fewer pages, but because the scope is much more limited - AHH spans a whole lifetime, and has many themes and subplots, whereas this book covers only a few years and is more focused on a particular story.
I'll definitely read more by William Boyd.
Completed : 11-Aug-2013