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. – Goodreads
I’m a Sara Gruen fangirl. I’ve read everything she’s wrote, including Water for Elephants, before it was a movie, or popular (because I’m a book hipster). I’m very protective of Water for Elephants in a ridiculous way. This is all to say that Gruen’s writing will carry me through stories that I may not be interested in normally — including one about the Loch Ness Monster. Sorry, I don’t get the appeal of Nessie.
What was interesting about At the Water’s Edge was the fact that it wasn’t really about the search for the Loch Ness Monster, Nessie was on the backburner a lot. This book was more about Maddie’s growth and ooh boy is there a lot of growth in this book. How could there not be with a backdrop of World War II and Scotland? Who during World War II heads towards the war, and not away from it? Maddie, her husband Ellis and his friend Hank. Ellis and Hank aren’t fighting in the war themselves due to color blindness and having a flatfeet. All three of them, in their own way, are fighting their own demons — their own Nessie.
Ellis, Hank, and Maddie all fall apart throughout this novel. The close group breaks apart and is a shadow of who they once were. Everyone in their own way is an asshole and that’s what makes the dynamic interesting. While not all characters redeem themselves, there is some redemption which makes reading it worth while. What also made it worth while was listening to it. The narrator was amazing.