At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen
At the Water’s Edge, a historical fiction novel by bestselling author Sara Gruen (Water for Elephants), is an almost appalling tale set at the height of World War II. Three pompous American men and women embark on a journey across the Atlantic to find the Loch Ness monster, with little regard for the war and it’s casualties. The book was binge worthy for the simple reason that the reader wants to reach into the pages and throttle the three main characters. Gruen manages to get your blood running hot, but also causes you to sympathize with the sheltered miscreants. Well, with the female lead Maddie mainly.
Ellis and Maddie Hyde and their good friend Hank get belligerently inebriated at a Philadelphia New Year’s Eve party and become the talk of Philadelphia high society, much to the embarrassment of Ellis’ parents. To redeem themselves they concoct a plan to find and document the famous Loch Ness monster of Scotland and cross the Atlantic Ocean while World War II is raging on around them. Where Maddie grows in character during their prolonged stay in Scotland, Ellis becomes increasingly obnoxious. And Hank turns a blind eye to it all.
Sara Gruen writes in an elegant flowing style. She crafted a page turning story that captures a little of the Scottish views of WWII. However, I felt she could have better entwined Scottish culture and accents within the story. Maybe my love for Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander has created a high standard for novels set in Scotland, but I did expect more.
Her characters were standard multifaceted personas that have been written by many authors before her, but it was still enjoyable to read their stories. Maddie is a sheltered high society young woman with a bit of controversy in her past. Ellis is your standard pretentious elite whose parent’s expectations cause him to rebel. Hank is simply along for the ride and enjoys giving his friends a little shove so he can watch the show.
The plot of this story was infuriating and highly original for a novel set during war times. I loved it and cannot bestow enough praise upon Gruen’s ingenuity. Imagine dragging your young wife across the Atlantic during WWII, in a cargo ship, when passenger freighters had been stopped due to unsafe waters. Then hiding from the wounded soldiers, rescued from a burning naval ship, when disembarking the freighter after a harrowing journey, leaving your seasick wife to endure the procession alone, all to save face within Philadelphia society by finding the Loch Ness Monster. I know, weird right.
“If he wanted to end his search for the beast, he need look no further than a mirror.” ~ Maddie Hyde.
This poignant quote is a great summary for the overall theme of At the Water’s Edge. I highly recommend you read this book if you enjoy bizarre tales that push the bounds of a genre. Despite typical character personas, and a need for more robust entwining of Scottish culture, Sara Gruen manages to write a compelling story with a profound view of the American elite and Scotland during World War II.
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