Friday, May 15, 2015

At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen—a book review

I wanted to read this book because the blurb billed it as about a search for the Lochness monster. As many of you know, I am fascinated by Scotland, all things Scottish (okay, even haggis), and particularly Lochness. The ancestral lands of the MacBean clan (of which I am a member) lie in the hills above Lochness, and I’ve been there.
Nessie is almost a deus ex machina in this excellent novel, with its hints of the paranormal. The story features Ellis and Maddie Hyde and Ellis’ best friend, Hank. Ellis and Hank could be straight out of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel moved into the 1940s and WWII. Both 4-F. Ellis has disgraced himself in his father’s eyes and been cut off from family funds, so he decides the thing to do is go to Scotland and solve the mystery of the Lochness monster, a mystery his father tried desperately to solve years earlier, failed, and made enemies among the locals. Ellis has no trouble convincing his wife and Hank to go along with the scheme and the three carefree partiers set off for Scotland.
But this is less a novel about Nessie, than it is about Maddie, who tells it in her own voice. It’s about her growth in maturity, compassion, and understanding of other worlds than that of privilege which she married into, about discovering a world beyond that she has known in her marriage. Ellis and Hank have no comprehension of the horrors of the war that rages on continents near them, although there are occasional air raid alerts in the small Highlands village. They stay in an inn which is clearly not up to their standards—either in accommodations or service. But while the “boys” are off chasing monsters, Maddie gradually comes to know the villagers and the starkly beautiful land around her and becomes fast friends with two young women who work at the inn. The story unfolds from there—one of love, and growth contrasted with selfish self-interest. I was drawn into its world, stealing every minute I could to read. Maddie almost become my alter ego.
Not so the “boys,” who remained spoiled, petulant and deceiving. They still referred to the innkeeper at “the help” and urged Maddie not to become too friendly. Gradually Maddie grows away from her two companions and closer to the Scottish people around her.
No spoilers. It’s a story with tragedy, passionate love, war, danger, and intrigue. But it held me spellbound. My only complaint is that while the war was always omnipresent, in the conclusion suddenly too much focus is on the details of the end of the war and the discovery of concentration camps--really removed from the world of the novel--and there is too much afterstory—but that would be another spoiler.
Nessie? Maybe she’s real, maybe not. It’s enigmatic. But strange things happen at the water’s edge of Lochness. I’d give this one four stars and recommend it highly.

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