“It is interesting to note that during the Second World War the German High Command had sufficient confidence in the reality of the monster to actually drop bombs in Loch Ness with the intent of destroying the creature and, thereby, damaging British morale.”–Donald E. Simanek & John C. Holden
Madeline Hyde, her husband Ellis, and their friend Hank are all from wealthy Philadelphia families. Maddie lost her mother at a tender age under a cloud of scandal. Now a newlywed, she finds herself with little if any moral compass. Ellis and Hank, both supposedly able-bodied men have been turned down by the armed forces and cannot fight in WWII. Ellis due to color-blindness and Hank due to flat-feet. Ellis’ father views this as a source of shame and vents his feelings toward Ellis – going so far as to threaten him with disinheritance.
Years ago, Ellis’ father sighted the Loch Ness monster and had garnered some acclaim from his discovery. When later, his claim was disputed, he was ridiculed. With twisted logic – Ellis believes that if he goes to Scotland and finds proof of the monster – he will vindicate his father and then once again win his favor.
With a war on – civilian travel is difficult to arrange. With the help of a friend, the three pack up their belongings and set sail for Scotland. The relationship between the three seems a strange one. Ellis appears to spend more time with Hank than with Maddie. Ellis does however take great stock in Maddie’s beauty and seems to view her as an accessory. He also views her as delicate as she has been prescribed ‘nerve pills’. Their marriage appears passionless. They have a very rough trip, with Maddie seasick the entire time and several U-boat attacks.
Once they finally reach their destination near Urquhart Castle they are dismayed to find a rather ramshackle inn which has none of the amenities to which they are accustomed. No electricity, no maid service and meager amounts of highly unsatisfactory food. With wartime rations and scarcities, Scotland seems much more affected by the war than the United States… Ellis with his penchant for drink, his wife’s pills, and rudeness, makes his feelings known and makes enemies amongst the locals. He thinks he is superior and treats anyone of a lesser social class with contempt and/or callous disregard. Maddie is shocked and embarrassed by his behavior.
Whilst Ellis and Hank are out day after day attempting to find documentation of “Nessie”, Maddie is left behind at the inn where she haltingly begins to befriend the staff there. In particular, she is attracted to the enigmatic innkeeper who seems to have a secretive past.
Ellis is becoming more and more desperate – and – he is becoming more and more dependent on Maddie’s ‘nerve’ pills. The reader finds themselves hating him, but what would good fiction be without a true villain? Maddie wonders at his skewed sense of priority. He is obsessed with finding a hypothetical monster while others are facing certain death everyday that the war continues. Meanwhile, Maddie has adapted to wartime Scottish life and helps out at the inn, although there are frequent air raids which frighten her greatly. Here she has made female friends, a novelty, as she has had none before this. The girls who work at the inn teach her how to do her own hair, how to cook, etc. Finally Maddie feels a true sense of belonging.
When at long last, Maddie realizes Ellis’s true nature, she finds herself in mortal danger. Will her new friends come to her aid?
The first third of “At the water’s edge” was not enjoyable for me. That is because I disliked the characters who were privileged, spoiled, upper class twenty-somethings with an inbred sense of entitlement.
Once the narrative shifted to Scotland, the story became more interesting and the protagonist, Maddie, began to evolve. Reading of her metamorphosis from spoiled socialite to caring, empathetic woman was a joy.
With meticulous historical detail, Sara Gruen has crafted a very enjoyable love story which should be appreciated by all fans of the genre.
My thanks to NetGalley and the publishers PenguinRandomHouse for providing me with a digital ARC of this novel.
“Whatever is the truth, there is no denying that Nessie will continue to intrigue the world for years to come.”–Jonathan Bright
Sara Gruen is the #1 New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Water for Elephants, Ape House, Riding Lessons, and Flying Changes. Her works have been translated into forty-three languages, and have sold more than ten million copies worldwide.
She lives in Western North Carolina with her husband and three sons, along with their dogs, cats, horses, birds, and the world’s fussiest goat.