(boy, it’s been a while since I made one of those!)
In 1942, three Philadelphia socialites make their way to a remote Scottish village, with the intention of proving the existence of the Loch Ness monster once and for all. Maddie Hyde, the wife of Ellis Hyde, accompanies Ellis and his best friend Hank on their quest mostly out of a sense of obligation, and is quickly left behind while the two men are gone, sometime for days at a time. She befriends the locals who work at the inn where they have taken rooms, and she learns a lot about herself, and about the true nature of monsters.
A lot of the publicity strategy for this book was to emphasize the connection with Water for Elephants, which makes sense. Water for Elephant has been adapted into a successful movie. (It made enough money to earn back it’s production costs and it got enough good reviews to earn a “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so that is successful to me.) There is also some comparison to be made between the two stories: they are both historical novel, set in the early part of the 20th century, and they both focus on the personal growth of their respective main characters. Of course, I may be missing some other similarity or subtle references: it has been four years since I read Water for Elephants. And this review is about At the Water’s Edge, anyway.
This novel is not without it’s flaws.
The romance is not especially well constructed i my opinion: I barely registered any chemistry between Maddie and the man she eventually ends up with. (spoiler alert: not her husband! Although she didn’t have that much chemistry with him either. I could also see a better match with Ellis’s best friend, Hank, although the novel does everything short of spelling out that Ellis and Hank are gay lovers.)
There is a lot of World War 2 infodumping going on, almost to remind people that the novel is set in the forties. The reminder is not especially a bad thing, though, because seeing the tragic trio’s lives in Philadelphia, with their Upstairs-Downstairs attitudes and their constant boozing and occasional yet casual drug usage, I was half-convinced that the novel was set in the twenties. Still, the paragraphs upon paragraphs of description of the war were not the best approach.
Finally, there is the fate of Maddie’s husband, Ellis. From the moment we realize that Maddie is falling in love with another man, his death becomes almost inevitable. They are in Europe during World War 2, after all. So it’s not so much the fact that he dies that upsets me, it’s the fact that by the time it he dies, he is so unlikable, so far beyond redemption, that his death feels at least five or six chapters late, and much too bloodless.
There were other things, however, that I liked really well. The more subtle reminders that the characters were living in a war, like the ration books and the military training base and the forestry army corps that comes to the inn almost every night. The development of Maddie’s character. Once we get into her backstory, I started to sympathize with her, and when she begins to think and act for herself, I really began to like her. I thought that the friendships she developed with the women working at the inn were especially well done. I also like the way Sara Gruen gives us just enough of a glimpse at what could be Nessie, and doesn’t quite answer the question as to whether or not she is fictional.
So yeah, it was a decent read, neither fantastic nor terrible. I liked it well enough, and with a few caveat, I might even recommend it.