Published by Spiegel & Grau
Publication date: November 10th 2015
Water for Elephants author Sara Gruen returns with another novel set in a location that is likely to draw readers in. At the Water’s Edge takes place in a tiny village in the Highlands of Scotland, near the shores of Loch Ness…and you can guess the rest. Madeline Hyde is there with her husband Ellis and his best friend as they try and prove the existence of the Loch Ness monster so Ellis can get back in his wealthy father’s good graces. Gruen has not swapped genres from historical fiction to science fiction, At the Water’s Edge is less about Nessie than it is about Maddie and her preconceived notions about herself and those around her.
A novel that includes the Loch Ness monster needs a light touch to keep the story balanced, but from the beginning Gruen is heavy handed in her portrayal of Maddie, Ellis, and Hank. The men especially are caricatures of spoiled, drunk, foolish rich boys and the initial picture of Maddie is not much better. To complicate matters At the Water’s Edge is set in 1945, which ratchets up the improbability factor. Three wealthy young dilettantes are able to get on a ship in 1945 and sail from the United States to Scotland to find the Loch Ness monster? That’s dicey, but once they’re settled in and matters focus more on Maddie’s backstory and marriage as well as the stories of the village and the war’s impact on them, the novel regains some of its footing. Right up until Maddie begins to realize her husband doesn’t love her and begins to fear that he is going to have her lobotomized. Because in Scotland in the final days of WWII there were plenty of medical staff in remote areas waiting to forcibly lobotomize healthy women whose husbands said they were insane. What?!
Ultimately, At the Water’s Edge has none of the nuance or depth found in Water for Elephants, but Gruen is an engaging writer and the story does move along at a clip that allows the eye and mind to pass over the implausible aspects and linger at the lighter, almost romance style parts. Plus, we are talking about the Loch Ness monster. If approached from an ‘anything goes’ angle At the Water’s Edge works as quick, entertaining reading.