Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd

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Part 1, Chapters 1-5 Summary

Waiting for Sunrise begins on a clear day in Vienna in 1913. Lysander Ulrich Rief is an Englishman who has given up his future plans and has invested his savings in a move to Vienna. Lysander has come to see Dr. J. Bensimon, a psychoanalyst trained by Sigmund Freud. In his rush and anxiety to meet with Bensimon for the first time, Lysander forgets his boater hat on a park bench. Instead of returning to retrieve it, he carries on to his appointment. Along the way, he sees a poster of a woman, barely clothed. He cannot make out what she is doing because the poster has been torn down, presumably due to its indecency. Lysander wonders what it might have been about and speculates that it might be related to some Greek myth.

At Dr. Bensimon’s office, he meets Miss Bull, an Englishwoman. She asks Lysander for a cigarette and takes two from him. When Bensimon and a man exit the doctor’s office, Miss Bull “barges” the queue to see the doctor. Alwyn Munro introduces himself and suggests that he and Lysander might have met before, as the latter looks so familiar. When Lysander mentions that Bull cadged two of his cigarettes, Munro warns him that she looks dangerous.

During the session, Bensimon sits behind Lysander. The young Englishman explains that he cannot achieve orgasm during sex, which the doctor diagnoses as anorgasmia. Lysander is the first person to see Bensimon with this problem. Bensimon tells Lysander to begin keeping a journal, which will allow the doctor an entry into Lysander’s mind. Lysander walks to a shop called WKM, where he buys a small guidebook that he intends to title “Autobiographical Investigations.” He meets Miss Bull again, who introduces herself as Hettie before claiming that Lysander looks familiar to her. She explains that she is staying with Udo Hoff, the painter, and asks for Lysander’s address so that she can invite him to one of her parties.

Lysander returns to the room he is renting at the Pension Kriwanek. He is taking German lessons with Herr Barth, a musician who also boards at the pension. Barth has paid for breakfast but not supper, and he leaves when the dinner bell is rung. Lysander appears for dinner promptly, which pleases Frau Kriwanek (Frau K), a forty-year-old widow who runs the pension. A place is set for Lieutenant Wolfram Rozman, who is also staying at the pension; however, the lieutenant is absent. The serving girl, Traudl, spills soup on the tablecloth, the cleaning of which will come from Traudl’s pay. After supper, Wolfram returns, asks Traudl to bring him bread and cheese, and informs Lysander that Traudl will sleep with the boarders for twenty crowns. When Lysander expresses surprise that such things could happen in Frau K’s pension, Wolfram explains that the pension is just like Austria: it is proper on the surface but underneath runs a “river of sex.”

Part 1, Chapters 6-10 Summary

Lysander’s sessions with Bensimon continue. He shares that his father was Halifax Rief, the acclaimed actor. It impresses Bensimon, who loves the theater. His mother, Anneliese (Anna), is Austrian. After Lysander’s father died, she married Lord Crickmay Faulkner, a man more than twenty years her senior. Bensimon is curious whether Lysander feels any sexual attraction for his mother, which Lysander finds ridiculous. Lysander shares a recurring dream with Bensimon in which he is in a theater, naked, surrounded by clothed women, though he cannot explain its meaning.

Back at the pension, Wolfram emerges from his room in full regalia. He explains that today is to be his tribunal. He is being tried because he was one of twelve men in charge of a locked box that was used to collect funds from the regiment. The funds were to be used to give their colonel a retirement gift. However, at the end of the three months' collection, the soldiers discovered that someone had stolen the money. Wolfram claims he is suspected because he is a Slovene; only the Austrians and Hungarians have real power and status in the empire....

(The entire section is 5,869 words.)