Thursday, January 14, 2016

At the Water's Edge - Sara Gruen

Summary: After embarrassing themselves at the social event of the year in high society Philadelphia on New Year’s Eve of 1942, Maddie and Ellis Hyde are cut off financially by Ellis’s father, a former army Colonel who is already embarrassed by his son’s inability to serve in WWII due to his being colorblind. To Maddie’s horror, Ellis decides that the only way to regain his father’s favor is to succeed in a venture his father attempted and very publicly failed at: he will hunt the famous Loch Ness monster and when he finds it he will restore his father’s name and return to his father’s good graces (and pocketbook). Joined by their friend Hank, a wealthy socialite, the three make their way to Scotland in the midst of war. Each day the two men go off to hunt the monster, while another monster, Hitler, is devastating Europe. And Maddie, now alone in a foreign country, must begin to figure out who she is and what she wants. The novel tells of Maddie’s social awakening: to the harsh realities of life, to the beauties of nature, to a connection with forces larger than herself, to female friendship, and finally, to love. (Summary and pic from

My Review: Truth be told, this book is a hard one to review. It had some bad things about it, but it also had some really good things about it. I think the best thing to do is to just break this down.

The Good:

I’m sad this book is over. I felt like I was in the story, and even though it was somewhat monotonous at times, it was a good monotonous in that I felt like I was there experiencing the monotony of it with the characters. When it was over, I missed being there with those characters.

My granny is Scottish and she was raised there and so I have a strong connection to Scotland. I love reading about it, and I love the atmosphere of it—its cold, it’s rainy, I feel like it speaks to me. When I read books about it, it strengthens my resolve that I need to go there ASAP.

Nessie is fun, no matter what. Whether you believe there is actually a Loch Ness Monster or not, it’s fun to read about it and have it play a part in the story, even if it is or isn’t real. Nessie’s just fun.

The Okay:

The writing was okay. It wasn’t amazing, and I am a little disappointed after having read Water for Elephants and loved it so much, but whatever. Sometimes there is magic, sometimes not.  There were some awkward writing bits in here, and it just didn’t seem as smooth as I thought someone with Gruen’s experience would be able to pull off.

The Bad:

The characters in this book were decent—I felt a connection to them—but what I did not like is that their story seemed really contrived and convoluted. So many things happened that I felt were huge leaps of conjecture. It’s like Gruen had a plan and just kept adding in more and more stuff to make that plan happen and it didn’t matter whether it fit or not. It was just really convoluted and almost soap opera-esque.

This book took on so much. It’s almost like three different books all smooshed into one—there’s Nessie and Loch Ness, there’s WWII (which almost seemed an afterthought), and there’s the abusive relationship (I’m not giving more than that away). There’s also high society during WWII. And mythic creatures in foreign lands. It just seemed really unfocused. I think there was too much going on and the author should have chosen her focus and stuck with that. As it was, nothing got too much attention and this ended up making the book seem contrived and at times trite. This also lessened the impact of the ending.

The ending. I liked the ending, all things considered, but I just think it ended really inelegantly.  The epilogue was like a whole other sequel squished into a few paragraphs, and the ending itself had come from such a long and convoluted, unfocused story that her last paragraph—which is probably the first thing she wrote and so she just HAD to stick it in there no matter what—seemed like too little too late.

So. What to do? Well, I’m giving this book three stars because I missed it when it was over. It must have made some impact on me. Its writing style and unfocused nature maybe almost knocks it down to two stars, but some of the story brings it up to four, so I’m giving it an even three and walking away and feeling generous about it.

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There are some pretty descriptive love scenes as well as language sprinkled throughout. 


Gerbera Daisy Diaries said...

Im one of the few that HATED Water for Elephants. Won't read another one of her books, sadly.

Unknown said...

I really enjoyed this book, except for the love scenes! I was so disappointed hitting that point in the book because now I have to be a lot more careful about who I recommend the book too... and I loved the rest of it!


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