|At the Water's Edge
4 / 5
"The headstone was modest and hewn of black granite, granite being one of the few things never in short supply in Glenurquhart, even during the present difficulty."
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.
This book took a little while for me to get into. However, knowing I’ve enjoyed a couple other of the author’s books in the past, I figured I’d give this one a bit more time. And I am glad I did - the story played out nicely, portraying a young woman caught up in strange madness during WWII. No, not really anything to do with the war, surprisingly! Rather, Maddie’s husband and his friend set off on a mad caper to Scotland, on a hunt for the elusive Loch Ness monster. Whew, I didn’t think this one could end well! I figured the author would either have to refute or “prove” the monster’s existence in order for the book to complete, but that was luckily not the case (you’ll see).
The story started off very promising, it being that of a young newlywed couple going a bit overboard during 1945 New Year’s Eve celebrations. I loved all of the characters presented at the start: the carefree trio of best friends, the staid and snooty parental figures, and the backstories of how everyone interconnected. As in Water for Elephants, Gruen is great at painting vivid personalities while also keeping her characters grounded.
The adventure truly begins when the footloose and fancy-free trio set off for an overseas adventure - to prove the existence of Nessie! (Marshall would be thrilled.) Perhaps she should have seen it coming when she was coerced into traveling to Scotland during the height of the war, but this is also when things begin to go downhill for Maddie, as the true nature of her husband and his best friend are slowly revealed. While all of that story seemed plausible enough, I have to say there was another romance which I just did not see happening until I was bludgeoned over the head with it. Ultimately, they seemed perfect for each other, but I felt as if a bit more build up - more of a connection developed between the two - would have been better.
Overall, this book was not Gruen’s best (I’d put it on equal ground with Ape House), but I did get drawn into the story, and I certainly cried at the end! And that always says something to me, when a book can make me feel like that. Read this with a book club (there is plenty to discuss!) or as a summer read, especially if you love historical fiction. This will not disappoint.
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