Amidst the turmoil of World War II, Madeline Hyde’s husband Ellis and his best friend Hank randomly decide to venture into the highlands of Scotland in search of the Loch Ness Monster. Both men have been deemed medically unfit for the army, Ellis for colorblindness and Hank for flat feet, but that does not stop the glares and whispers when people see them out of uniform. When they reach a tiny Scottish village and check into the local inn, Ellis and Hank begin acting secretive and wild, drinking all day and well into the night. Frequently left behind while her husband is off monster-hunting, Maddie gets to know the locals and struggles to remember who she is outside of her marriage.
Author Sara Gruen is best known for her wildly popular Water for Elephants as well as the tragically underrated Ape House. For her most recent novel, Gruen dives into one of the most famous and enduring legends, that of the Loch Ness Monster. However, anyone going into At the Water’s Edge expecting to be thrilled by exploits of monster hunting will be tragically disappointed. I would estimate that nearly 75% of the novel takes place in the small hotel where Maddie and her husband are staying. This is not to say that At the Water’s Edge isn’t an interesting book with an intriguing plot line, but I did spend a fair bit of time wondering when the hunt for Nessie was going to get underway.
Despite the intense lack of creatures from the deep, the plot of the novel is carried along by the force of Maddie’s character. She is a woman who finds herself married to a man she barely recognizes, one that does not seem to respect her or take her feelings into consideration. Ellis goes from being merely immature to downright repugnant over the course of the novel. Luckily there is a strong and honorable innkeeper available to catch her eye. Gruen takes advantage of the stereotypical Scottish male that has been romanticized by novels such as Outlander. Angus is strong but possesses a gentle heart. He provides for his fellow man in times of scarcity without asking for anything in return. He is a war hero with a tragic backstory. You can probably fill in the rest of the blanks from there.
I couldn’t decide how I felt about the romantic angle in this book. In some ways it comes about naturally enough and doesn’t feel too forced. But on the other hand, why is it in novels that the beautiful but tragically unhappy heroine manages to find her strong and valiant protector in literally the first male she meets after realizing she is unhappy? It’s so utterly predictable that as soon as Angus was introduced and described, I made a note in my book journal: “obligatory love/savior”.
That said, I couldn’t help but rooting for Maddie as she struggles to fit in with life in a small Scottish village. I’ve always loved Sara Gruen’s writing style, she is compellingly readable and my mind sunk into her narrative without a moment’s hesitation.
My rating: 4/5
Happy reading everyone!