Review: At The Water’s Edge

At The Water’s Edge by Sarah Gruen

Spiegel and Grau, 2015.  Hardcover, 348 pages.Cover:  At Water's Edge

This spellbinding and poetically descriptive novel opens to a prologue that seems out-of-place except for the geography.  However, it provides a key to unlocking the story.  The novel then jumps into the journey of three Americans to Loch Ness before backtracking to explain why there were heading for the Scottish Highlands near the end of World War II.  Attempting to prove a point to his father, Ellis Hyde and his friend Hank Boyd are bent of locating the Loch Ness Monster after Ellis’ family cuts him and his wife, Maddie, off.  All three are used to the high life that comes from living in upper class Philadelphia and Ellis desires nothing more that to return to that life and drags his wife on the journey to meet that end.  Finding Nessie became the goal because Ellis’ father was ridiculed in society by supposedly forged photos he had taken of the monster a decade before.

While she initially helps Ellis and Hank in their search, Maddie quickly becomes disillusioned with the venture.  She spends more and more time at the inn where they are staying and becomes friends with the two girls who work their, Anna and Meg, and their boss, Angus.  Making matters worse for Maddie, Ellis and Hank often disappear for days on end without warning or when they remain in the area, they often return drunk. Therefore, it is no surprise that Maddie finds a way to make herself useful and her perspectives on life soon begin to change.

Despite this summary, this story is not really about the hunting for the Loch Ness Monster.  As hinted above, it is the story of Maddie’s self-discovery.  Reader’s will see her change from a carefree party girl to a woman who understand what she really needs in life.  The change is gradual and brought about by things she realizes as Ellis and Hank focus on tracking the monster.  It is also a story of how unhealthy obsession can be, as reader’s will see with another character.  This character’s decline is foreshadowed through a bad habit, but the full extent of it is only revealed near the novel’s end.  I cannot say more about these points without spoiling the plot.

There is also a tender love story woven into the novel focused on two of the characters, both who have faced personal tragedies.  This too comes about gradually at the beginning, but the romance seems rushed, though true, near the end of the novel.

Focusing on the fact this novel was set during World War II, there were both moments of historical accuracy and inaccuracy.  Reader’s will see how water, food, and fuel were rationed, plus how in rural areas there were ways around dome types of rationing.  There are also two fairly accurate descriptions of air raids, complete with descriptions of the Anderson Shelters and gas mask usage.  However, there is disbelief at how civilians would be allowed to travel to and from Europe.  First, without official business it would not have been allowed for the men.  For the women, it was forbidden unless one was a WAVE or a WREN.  Yes, I get the fact that in the novel there were some illegal dealings to have Maddie, Ellis, and Hank board the supply ship but I’m not sure how they were not caught before leaving port.  Still, that fact does not detract from the heart of the story.

I received an advanced reader’s copy of this novel (after publication) from the publisher.  The book released in March, 2015.

Do you think you’ll read Maddie’s story?   If you already have, what are your thoughts on this novel?

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