At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen, published by Two Roads on 7th May 2015
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.
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.
This was an enjoyable read but not one which captivated me in the same way as Sara Gruen's bestselling 'Water For Elephants'. The latter had a magical aura about it which stayed with me long after finishing the book. 'At the Water's Edge' just wasn't in the same league. It was very good but didn't have the same sparkling brilliance and originality about it. Maybe it's because I loved Gruen's first book so much that my expectations were sky high and almost impossible to match.
That is not to say that I didn't enjoy the book because I did but it's one that I could happily dip in and out of without any sense of urgency to finishing it. It also meant that when I'd finished it, I wasn't left with that urge to immediately add it to my re-read pile.
I expect in part my feelings about the book were down to the characters themselves who were thoroughly dislikeable for a good part of the story. Maddie, her husband Ellis and their friend Hank end up on an expedition to Scotland to try and catch sight of the Loch Ness Monster. With World War II raging around them, their affairs are more complicated as the bonds between them begin to splinter. I did eventually grow to like Maddie but not until at least half-way through. She matures a lot, learns some important lessons about herself and her desires and begins to separate herself from her volatile husband. The second-half of the story was much better as Maddie begins to find her place and gains acceptance from the people she is now sharing her life with.
A slow paced, historical novel, Sara Gruen fans will want to pick this one up. However if you haven't read any of her work before, then I would definitely recommend starting with the far superior 'Water For Elephants'.