Spiegel & Grau
March 31, 2015
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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.
I have already been asked if I thought At the Water's Edge was as good as Water for Elephants. While I don't think I remember Water for Elephants enough - or not clearly enough, in detail - to say for certain, I do think I liked At the Water's Edge more. (And I did love Water for Elephants.)
Having said that, I was worried for a while that I was not really going to like this book I had such high hopes for. The characters were kind of irritating. The thing they reminded me of the most was that group of people (kids, teens, whatever) that are so loud and obnoxious you just want to be anywhere but there - but you know they think they're amazing. Maddie, Ellis and Hank were just so enthralled by themselves. I kind of couldn't stand them.
Once the story got to Scotland, though, I fell in love. The author somehow makes a place - in the midst of World War II, with just about everything but porridge rationed, even the threat of bombs - enthralling, captivating and a place you're going to fall in love with.
The Scottish characters - their brusqueness, their lack of being awed by the American trio - are so real and honest. They're refreshing and a great (as well as much needed) counter to Maddie, Ellis and Hank.
At the Water's Edge is a "story of a privileged young woman’s moral and sexual awakening," (per here and arc) so you know Maddie's character is going to change. It was that promise that had me looking forward to what was to come, even when I didn't like her, at first - a promise very much fulfilled.
The novel does have a strong (sweet, lovely) romance, but it was really the growth of Maddie's character from that elitist girl in the beginning to who she is at the end that made for such a remarkable book. The romance is a part of that, but so are numerous other things. How she 'wakes up' and begins to see things in a new light was very well done, realistic, believable and relateable. (I even loved the beginning I had almost disliked because of how well it then fit into the story and with the characters. It was beyond necessary.)
When you add in the Loch Ness monster, Ellis's family history with the creature, the time period, the setting and the characters, I absolutely love At the Water's Edge. Don't miss out on this incredible story.
Other books you might also enjoy: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen and A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott
arc received thanks to the publisher