Sara Gruen seems to have a knack for creating compelling female characters. Water for Elephants was such a great book – and made a great movie too, I loved the love story that evolved between Marlena and Jacob. She’s written a few books since then, and though I haven’t read them, I had heard good things about At the Water’s Edge, her most recent book. After being on my TBR list for a while, and on my summer reading list, I’m finially finished!
Set in the years during World War II, the main character Maddie and her husband Ellis take a trip to Scotland. With most men his age off fighting the war, Ellis and his best friend Hank had been left behind. Somehow, they were both medically unqualified for military service. Both wanting to prove themselves in some other way, and tired of answering questions about why they weren’t doing their part for the war effort, they decide to take up Ellis’s father’s mission to find the Loch Ness monster. Ellis’s parents had never been supportive of his relationship with Maddie, she was from “new money”. With his inheritance at risk, he hopes that if he finds the monster, he’ll get back in their good graces. .
Going to Scottland at the time was incredibly dangerous, and several times throughout the book I wonder why Maddie keeps following them. I have to constantly remind myself – or even try to convince myself – that it was the time period. She didn’t have that many options. As a society woman, she didn’t really have an education, and there certainly weren’t any job opportunities for her. Even with that constant reassurance, I couldn’t understand why she blindly followed him across the war-ravaged Atlantic. When they get there, she is left at a small inn, while he and Hank go off in search of the monster. They have no idea what the war has done to the village, how to get ration booklets, and just how serious and desperate the situation was there. There she is left alone, to her own devices, and in the process befriends some of the inn’s workers.
I want to root for her, but I just can’t. I liked the story, and in a way it reminded me so much of Elephants, in that it seemed like a period drama. This village, and the inn and the people who work there, eventually accept her. And it’s there that the real story begins. After hours – and even days – spent waiting for her husband to return, she finds herself. She starts to help around the inn, she learns to cook, and survives air raids. She becomes more real and relatable.
I really tried to like the story, and in some parts I did. I had so much hope that this would be good, as I had loved Elephants so much. Even after her experiences at the inn, she begins to change, but my opinion of her didn’t.