In our book club we love William Boyd. His books are always satisfying, complicated, great plots, interesting flawed protagonists, or as one reviewer puts it - there is always a 'Dude with a Problem'. And the author himself is timeless, judging by the photo that graces the book covers. Although as an aside, the photo on the cover of this, his latest, does actually resemble a man who could be approaching 60 years of age!
Lysander Rief is a young Englishman, an actor, who is the son of a now deceased famous actor father. He is engaged to a young actress. He comes to Vienna in 1913 to seek a cure for a personal and private problem, Vienna of course being the home to Sigmund Freud and his theories of psychoanalysis. Lysander is very much an innocent abroad, rather dull, indecisive, bit of a wimp really. In Vienna he meets a wide assortment of very interesting people ranging from his fellow lodgers, his therapist, a fellow patient with whom he has a very complicated entanglement, and some fellow Brits. Life suddenly takes a very dark turn for Lysander, and it seems as if he goes through a personality transplant in the process. The result is a man of action who would not be out of place in a John Le Carre novel. Suddenly his life has a purpose, ie save it, and in the process uncover a mole deep inside the British military machine.
Because of course, by now it is World War I. Lysander is quite literally, thrown in the deep end, on his quest to solve the intelligence leak. This takes him to the trenches, to Switzerland, back to England, tripping around all over the south coast, dealing again with his complicated entanglement, finding true love, and finally managing to derail the traitor. Quite an achievement really for someone whose life only months before appeared to be going nowhere.
I know it is all only fiction and made up, but the changes that take place in Lysander I did find a little far fetched. Maybe his psychotherapy treatment produced a truly new man! Maybe those acting genes finally kick in. The book could be psycho analysed forever in an attempt to understand the author's purpose. But it doesn't really matter because this is a very readable, action filled, page turner of a book. The story may be a little uneven, the ending a bit of an anti climax, but William Boyd's writing, as usual, is flawless. It doesn't take much for him to pick the reader up and throw them into the action too.