Book reviews

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Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd

I’ve been enjoying working my way through William Boyd’s novels but although I enjoyed Waiting for Sunrise, I wouldn’t include this story amongst his best works.

The story starts with Lysander Reif, a “young, almost conventionally handsome man” visiting a psychologist in Vienna in 1913 for a sexual problem.

Lysander was quickly cured by an experimental treatment which the doctor called ‘Parallelism’. The treatment consisted of Lysander writing down his thoughts and memories, which then formed part of the narration. After discussing Lysander’s writings with him the doctor then hypnotised Lysander to create new memories which displaced various upsetting events in his past. I thought that Lysander’s heady affair with an attractive and sexually adventurous woman, Hettie Bull, may have effected his cure rather than Parallelism, but who knows?

Lysander’s romance with Hettie ended when her common-law husband discovered she was pregnant, at which point Hettie accused Lysander of rape rather than own up to the affair. An acquaintance from the British Embassy put up bail for Lysander on the proviso he was confined to the consulate, then helped him to escape and return to England.

Lysander’s escape came with a price, and as he was unable his bill from the Embassy, he was recruited to find a high-level traitor to Great Britain when World War One broke out to repay his debt. Lysander found himself waiting for sunrise in no man’s land hoping not to be shot at by his own country, England’s allies or the enemy. At other times he carried out mind-numbingly boring audits of war offices while trying to work out who the traitor was and who was bluffing who.

Spy novels, war stories or thrillers aren’t my preferred genre, so even though I enjoyed Boyd’s Ordinary Thunderstorms which was also a thriller very much, I’ll probably avoid anything else Boyd writes in these genres. I’m hoping to read Brazzaville Beach next.

Lock 14 by Georges Simenon

Lock 14 is an early Inspector Maigret novels by Belgian writer, Georges Simenon. The story has also been published as The Carter of La Providence, The Crime at Lock 14 and Maigret Meets a Milord.

I would have preferred to start reading the Inspector Maigret stories with the first book in the series but as my library didn’t have a copy of Pietr the Latvian I was more than happy to start with what I could get, having had many recommendations to read Simenon’s books.

Lock 14 is set on a canal, something which doesn’t exist in my area of the world. The characters included working people on barges, an Englishman and an odd assortment of guests on his pleasure yacht, plus the managers of the locks who ran the lock-side inns along the canal.

When a woman was found strangled to death in a stable near Lock 14 Inspector Maigret attended but initially found, as the first paragraph of the story said, that the facts of the case proved nothing.

The dead woman was identified as the wife of the English ‘Milord.’ Soon after Maigret’s arrival, another man who had been travelling on the yacht was also found murdered.

The story is very short and the writing style is terse. Descriptions of the characters and events are brief but telling with very little emotion shown by any of the characters despite a murderer being in their midst. I did feel that Maigret privately made moral judgements on many of the more hedonistic characters although his distaste was not overtly described.

I guessed who the murderer was prior to the dramatic end reveal, so found this story to be more of a psychological study than a mystery. My favourite Belgian detective is still Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, but with further reading, I expect I might warm to Maigret.

Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman


Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman is a love story that will stay with me forever.

The summer Elio is 17, his family host Oliver, an American student in their home on the Italian Riviera. Every year the family have a young academic stay with them who spend a few hours day assisting Elio’s father, a professor, with his work, after which they are free to revise their own manuscript, improve their Italian, go to the beach or in Oliver’s case, charm Elio, his family, their extended household and community.

The story is narrated by Elio and he tells the reader everything of his joys and hopes, and of his failures, shame and embarrassment. He is precocious, a musical prodigy wise beyond his years after having been exposed to people from all walks of life as a result of his parent’s open door policy. Precocious or not, though, Elio is also 17 and at the mercy of his hormones. He has a girlfriend, Marzia and is sexually experienced (with girls), but as Oliver’s six week visit continues, Elio find himself more and more attracted to Oliver.

Elio is a typical 17 year old. His emotions swing and sway between joy and despair in reaction to a single word and his hopes and dreams are bigger than his reality. His behaviour is sometimes playful, sometimes petulant. He doesn’t know what he wants but he knows he wants Oliver.¬†Oliver is 24 and seemingly has no idea of Elio’s infatuation.

Elio believes Oliver has four personalities which are in alignment with his four bathing suits, wearing red when he is adult, abrupt and ill-tempered, yellow for his funny and buoyant tempers, green when he is sunny and eager to learn from Elio, and blue only occasionally, but Elio notes Oliver’s kindness when he wears his blue swimming trunks. At first, Elio wants Oliver to be ‘green’ all of the time.

Eventually Elio tells Oliver how he feels and at first, Oliver, although kind, tells him they cannot act on his feelings. Despite Oliver’s words, he and Elio kiss while overlooking a local lookout to the sea called Monet’s Berm. Their kiss is followed by their feet touching under the dinner table, and in no time at all Elio and Oliver’s physical relationship ramps to match their desire.


When I said Elio doesn’t leave anything out of his narration, I meant that he doesn’t leave anything out. There were moments that made me cringe and sections that depict their sexual relationship so frankly that in the hands of a lesser writer I would not have finished this book. But not leaving anything out means that Elio shares all of his feelings of confusion and desire and joy and sadness and curiosity and hope. He lives in the moment and his first romance is as intense as most teenagers’ first love.

Call Me By Your Name made me remember (briefly, thank goodness) what it was to be a teenager and at the mercy of emotions I didn’t understand and couldn’t control. I remember several short-lived crushes on wildly inappropriate people who didn’t know I existed, slamming doors at home to show my frustration with my family and lots of wishing I was someone else, older, more sophisticated, more something without knowing what the something was.

Elio’s 17th summer had almost a fairy tale quality in that the person he loved also loved him, his parents were understanding and urged him to feel his sadness after the affair ended and he had a bright and happy future ahead.

The writing in Call Me By Your Name is beautiful and the story deserves a slow read in order to appreciate the story and language. My one criticism of the story is that the barely six-weeks becomes Elio’s defining relationship for the rest of his life. I appreciate that this was Elio’s first adult love affair, but to continue loving that person more than anyone who came after seems to me to be a tragedy.

Call Me By Your Name could be called a coming of age novel, although it seemed bigger than that to me. I rate this story of first love as one of the most beautiful and unforgettable romances I’ve read.


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