I received this book via Netgalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of this review.At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen
Published by Spiegal & Grau on 2015-03-31
Length: 348 pages
Reviewing eARC from Netgalley
In her stunning new novel, Gruen returns to the kind of storytelling she excelled at in Water for Elephants: a historical timeframe in an unusual setting with a moving love story. Think Scottish Downton Abbey.
After embarrassing themselves at the social event of the year in high society Philadelphia on New Year’s Eve of 1942, Maddie and Ellis Hyde are cut off financially by Ellis’s father, a former army Colonel who is already embarrassed by his son’s inability to serve in WWII due to his being colorblind. To Maddie’s horror, Ellis decides that the only way to regain his father’s favor is to succeed in a venture his father attempted and very publicly failed at: he will hunt the famous Loch Ness monster and when he finds it he will restore his father’s name and return to his father’s good graces (and pocketbook). Joined by their friend Hank, a wealthy socialite, the three make their way to Scotland in the midst of war. Each day the two men go off to hunt the monster, while another monster, Hitler, is devastating Europe. And Maddie, now alone in a foreign country, must begin to figure out who she is and what she wants. The novel tells of Maddie’s social awakening: to the harsh realities of life, to the beauties of nature, to a connection with forces larger than herself, to female friendship, and finally, to love.
At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen is a stunning adventure about a young woman who follows her husband and his friend on a quest to find the loch ness monster. I have to say that this book was not at all what I expected and that made it even more enjoyable! Water for Elephants is perhaps one of my all-time favorite reads, or at least it was until I read this one. At the Water’s Edge takes on a time set during the end of WWII, in a war ravaged Scotland. Maddie’s husband Ellis and his friend Hank are bitter, having been unable to join the war due to health conditions out of their control, and now they are looking for adventure and take Maddie along for the ride.
Maddie is a bit naive at the onset of the book. She was a black sheep as far as society was concerned because of her mother’s illness. Her husband Ellis married her and dotes on her. He is her best friend, her confidante. But when Ellis’s family cuts them off, Maddie realizes she may not know her husband as well as she thinks, especially when he drags her across the ocean during a war in search of a myth. Maddie’s experience on that boat ride shapes her character. She wants to contribute, she wants to make a difference, only if her husband will let her.
Ellis and Hank….I struggled with these two characters. Ellis is outwardly kind, if not a bit spoiled, but his actions towards Maddie from the start of the book had me questioning him. He doesn’t take her seriously and treats her more as an adorable pet than a wife. Hank however is easy to like. Yes, he’s a spoiled American brat and yes he’s selfish, but what you see is what you get. Hank puts on no airs when dealing with Maddie, Ellis, or anyone else he encounters in the book. Also he has a heart where Ellis doesn’t!
In addition to these three characters, there are some great characters they meet in Scotland: Anna, Meg, and Angus. Anna is a maid in the inn that Maddie stays at. She gives Maddie a hard time, but in a way that made me love her! Meg is a waitress in the same inn and lives in one of the rooms. She’s spunky, believes that Maddie lives a glamourous life and has big plans for her own. Angus is the bar owner. Maddie’s first encounter with him cracks me up. He’s not a push over and he doesn’t take kindly to strangers, especially two American men who could be fighting in the war as he did. I was infatuated with this character from the get go!
I was a bit disappointed in the plot. I was expecting one similar to Water for Elephants where the history was intertwined with the story seamlessly. However in this book, yes the war is going on and yes it affects the characters with air raids and news broadcasts, yet it isn’t really a part of the story. The story centers on Maddie and her relationship with Ellis, his obsession with finding the monster, and her desires to contribute in some way. In fact the few times the war is mentioned it comes in the form of news reports and isn’t very relevant to the story. It was a lot of info-dumping then on to the main story which was a bit distracting.
Overall though I loved the story! Maddie is a character that grew on me. I went from not quite hating her in the beginning to understanding and loving her in the end. The tension from living in war time was evident in Gruen’s writing as the characters’ lived in fear daily, carrying a gas mask with them at all times, using black out curtains at night to keep any light in, knowing where the shelters were, etc. It made for an intense read at times! If like me you enjoy historical fiction with a dash of romance, this book is for you!