Review: At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

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*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for and honest review.*

Title: At the Water’s Edge

Author: Sarah Gruen

Publisher: March 31, 2015

Publication Date: Spiegel & Grau

ISBN: 9780385523233

At the Water's Edge

Synopsis from Goodreads:
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 colourblind. 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’ve never read Water for Elephants, so this was my first experience with Sara Gruen. Boy, am I ever glad that I’ve been introduced to her writing.  At the Water’s Edge is a stunning and heartbreaking novel about friendship, family, love, marriage, terror, war, and so much more. This novel lives and breathes Scotland. The setting is absolutely encapsulating. One sentence is all it takes to dive right into the heart of the Scottish landscape. The story takes place right on the banks of Loch Ness at the tail end of World War 1. Food stamps and air raid threats are ever present. These realities serve as a wake up call to Maddie Hyde, wife of the son of a wealthy Colonel and daughter to an equally wealthy father. Maddie and Ellis have lived in luxury, never wanting for anything. Although Ellis remains, throughout the story, absorbed in his own self-centred reality, Maddie learns that there is more to life than money and appearance.

This story had me dreaming of air raids. The war looms on the outskirts of the story, but it inevitably brings death into the story. There is an ever-present ominous tone as danger hangs over the characters. There is turmoil in the world around them as there is turmoil in their lives. The characters are survivors and they prove that there is strength in numbers. The learn to live together and even to love one another. They form unbreakable bonds and rely on one another for strength and guidance. The characterization in this story is very strong. The characters, the essential characters I should say, experience growth and change. They develop thoroughly throughout the course of the book. They make the best of seemingly desperate situations. They manage to find happiness in a world wrecked with hatred and violence.

Superstition and folk lore are also present throughout this little town. Stories of the Lock Ness Monster are abundant, and spirits observe the goings on of the townsfolk. The spirits and the uncertainty surrounding the monster create a sinister tone on some occasions, but offer hope on others. They are the protectors of the town and a good number of the citizens rely heavily on and believe deeply in the sightings of both the monster and the spirits.

This is a story of growth and change. It’s about the resilience of the human spirit and the capacity of people to love, to change, and feel compassion. The characters face complex and difficult situations, often without an apparent ability to change. They must adapt, or learn to cope. The characters, especially Maddie, or the barmaid Meg, are strong and discover unknown reserves in themselves to carry on and to better their situations. As woman during the 1930s, their options are limited and often frightful, but they create a support system for themselves wherein they are safer and are better able to cope with the world around them.

Overall, this was an excellent story. I’m absolutely enamoured with Sara Gruen’s writing. I may just need to backtrack and pick up a copy of Water for Elephants. I definitely recommend this book.

What do you think of Sara Gruen’s writing style? Does it differ much from Water for Elephants?

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