At the Water's Edge
By Sara Gruen
378 pages (plus author's notes & stuff at the back)
I have also read Gruen's first book, Water for Elephants, which readers may recall was made into a not-so-successful movie. (The book was better.)
This book, At the Water's Edge, starts off slow but gathered momentum after the first laborious chapters. For a while, the narrator was not someone I could relate to - a spoiled, wealthy woman who had never ironed a shirt in her life, who had married an insipid husband who could not be called a man. He was more like a boy-child.
The story was set during World War II and focused on Scotland. Madeline and her husband, Ellis, set off in the midst of a war to pursue the Loch Ness Monster because Ellis's father had once found fame with photos of the monster, though those photos were later proven false. So Ellis wanted to clear his father's name. Ellis was not fighting in the war because he was color blind, and his father, a Colonel, was ashamed of his son.
The duo take along Ellis's best friend, Hank, and they end up at a hotel/inn. Ellis and Hank essentially desert Madeline, and she makes friends with the staff and with the inn owner, a former captain in the army who is missing a finger and has a scarred body from early on in the war.
Madeline begins to find herself and learn more about life and the real world while her husband and his friend are off being playboys or something. Along the way, Madeline learns that her husband didn't really want to be married to her and that his color blind excuse was just that - an excuse.
I would not call this story compelling, gripping, or a page turner. I read it while I was eating dinner and finished it up over the weekend when the lights were out and I had nothing else to do but read by flashlight. I enjoyed the historical aspect of the novel - Gruen does period pieces well - but in general I do not find her characters to be people I like. Even though Madeline grows and turns into a better human being at the end, she still has a lot to learn about life.
The story does have interesting metaphors about monsters - the monsters in the lake, the monster in her husband, the monster of drug use, the monsters inside all of us who peek out from time to time. What we do with those monsters depends on a variety of things, I suppose.
If you can get past the first few chapters, the story picks up and becomes a better read. So if you decide to read this New York Times bestseller, hang in there.