Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Book Review: At the Water's Edge, by Sara Gruen


Title: At the Water's Edge
Author: Sara Gruen
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau, 348 pages
Source: Library digital resources

Publisher's Summary: 
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.

My Review:
I grabbed this book on a whim while loading my Nook before our recent backpacking trip, and it's definitely a step out of my usual reading. I think the author and publisher would deny it, but it really felt most of the time like a romance, not quite the sort of historical fiction I was looking for.

The WWII setting, in a tiny Scottish village on the shores of Loch Ness, is well drawn, though I realize that mostly I ended up visualizing only the lousy weather, not the actual setting. Certainly the people of the village, beyond the pub/inn where Maddie is staying, are pretty vague. The other women, with whom Maddie becomes friends, are a bit set to "type."

That said, the book was certainly an engaging read. While the characters of Ellis and Hank remain pretty static, and everyone else besides Maddie is clearly a minor character meant to reflect her, Maddie does seem to grow and develop. That is, of course, the whole point of the book, aside from bringing her from a loveless and pointless marriage to a discovery of love and friendship. In fact, I wish more effort had been spent on Maddie's development of friendship--and maybe her discovery that doing something productive is satisfying, and that having money doesn't make you a better person than someone who works for a living--and less on finding her a better lover.

As for that lover--he has the potential to be an interesting person, but I very much disliked the "twist" at the end, which felt pat and easy and negated some of the things Maddie was learning. And as usual, I am disappointed when an author implies that monsters and supernatural beings maybe are real and had an impact on the story (beyond the impact of characters' belief in them; characters can believe whatever they want, I just want the author to remain clear on the difference between fantasy and reality).

All in all, I give this one a mixed rating. The writing, as mentioned was sound and engaging, it just remained, in the end, not my kind of book in many ways--though it comes so close at times to being much more than a romance.

Good for a book-club read or a vacation. There are a couple of sex scenes that are moderately graphic, but they actually serve a narrative purpose (however obvious that purpose may be).

FTC Disclosure: I checked At the Water's Edge out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising." 

The summer sale continues for just 4 more days!


  1. I read Water for Elephants, so I don't feel the need to read more by this author, although as you say, it's a good enough read for a holiday. If the real/fantasy issue at the end involved the Loch Ness monster... you do know that's real, don't you? ;)

    1. Wasn't just Nessie, though that's part of it. And I'm pretty sure that he's moved to a warmer climate by now ;)

      Another case of an author who gets a lot of hype but doesn't really impress me.


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