Photo Courtesy of Good Reads
Article Written by Alexa Doiron
While the synopsis for At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen makes the novel sound like one of Scottish magic and adventure while tracking down the Loch Ness Monster, it is anything but. Do not be fooled. Instead, this is a novel about a woman who realizes the horrors of her marriage and finally finds a place that feels like home among the Highlanders. Gruen gives us insight into the way relationships form between people while placing her characters against the backdrop of the rich, Scottish landscape.
The story begins, though, in the northeastern homes of 1940’s wealth. Maddie Hyde is happily married to her husband Ellis, and living off of his parents’ money in his childhood home. It is only after a falling out with her in-laws that Maddie, Ellis, and their friend Hank make the dangerous trek to Scot- land to and proof of the Loch Ness Monster and redeem their good names.
Gruen is the author of well-know book- turned-movie Water for Elephants and no stranger to creating unique set- tings.Throughout the novel, she navigates the plot by intertwining historical events from World War II. The weaving of the emotions of war and the mysteries of Scotland give this plot a deeper connection to reality.
Personally, I have always been in love with the history and landscape
of Scotland and from this story, I can feel Gruen’s own passion for the culture. However, I wish she had integrated more history into the story. There are many passages about the beauty of the land, and a couple of mentions about some superstitions, but it feels almost as though there was not enough re- search done the actual background of the people and culture in that area.
Most of Gruen’s research, it seems, was done about the war. Which makes sense, given the context, but these passages that depict the events of the war seemed forced. It feels almost as though a newspaper article was slapped at the end of a chapter–as if Gruen is saying “Oh right, and all of this is happening too.”
Where Gruen lacks in historical context, she thrives in character depth. While Ellis and Hank leave Maddie behind at the inn to search for the monster, it is in the staff that help Maddie to realize all that she was lacking in her life and create for her the first place that truly feels like home. From the rm, but loving barmaid Anna, to the silent and strong Angus, the characters are written with such precision and life that it saddens me a bit when I remember they’re fictional.
The author gives fairly close looks into the background of these characters’ and shows readers how much life was changed by the war. One character, Meg, is mentioned to be the only surviving member of her family after a bombing, only to later be brutally
beaten by the man she loves. It is in these con- texts, with characters that tug at readers’ heart- strings, that Gruen works her magic in an otherwise common novel.
I am a fan of a good love story (despite the bitter attitude I project) and At the Water’s Edge definitely fulfilled all of the aspects that appear in most romance novels. For the most part, the romance between Angus and Maddie was sweet and endearing, but lacks reasoning behind it and appears slightly random. The convenience of Angus is almost too good, and seems like an easy way to tie up the plot.
The relationship between the two blossoms after an emotion- ally exhausting night for Maddie, and we see how
quickly Maddie falls in love with Angus. For me, though, I never really saw why he fell in love with Maddie. There doesn’t seem to be any reason or moment that causes his feelings for her. It is just lucky for Maddie that as soon as she realizes her affection for him, he re- turns it equally. Which, as most would attest to, is not usually the way these things happen.
At the Water’s Edge is a great book for fans of the series Outlander (such as myself). It is full the passion and historical drama that people love, but most likely will not be a novel known for its originality.
While it is not some- thing to prize on your bookshelf at parties with your literary friends, it is a great beach read.