Historical Fiction: At the Water’s Edge, by Sarah Gruen

At the Water's Edge

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When the water referenced in book’s title turns out to be Loch Ness, my interest is immediately piqued. In this particular novel, set in the final year of WW II, a pair of wealthy, 4F buddies, Ellis and Hank, set off for Scotland to find and film the famed monster, thereby redeeming their reputations as cowards and making their own mark on history. Hank has governments contacts, who improbably agrees to find them passage in an official convoy. Ellis drags along his socialite wife, Maddie, who quite rightly is terrified to cross the u-boat infested Atlantic. One of this book’s liveliest, most interesting passages recounts a u-boat attack and its aftermath, and serves to define the personalities of the three main characters, establishing Maddie as protagonist.

The spoiled, entitled trio are appalled by their quarters at the tiny country inn on the shores of Loch Ness, and rather oafishly, Ellis and Hank are openly disdainful toward the staff and the paltriness of food made scarce by rationing. From the moment of their arrival, a series of mildly comical events ensues (their outrage when the chambermaid fails to unpack their belongings, their bumbling attempts to spot Nessie, the staff finding ways to retaliate for their arrogance). Vivid descriptions of Loch Ness, wartime deprivations, and the culture and folklore of the area enliven the narrative. Toward the middle of the plot, Maddie is left alone at the inn for days at a time, and it is then that Maddie begins her journey toward self awareness and compassion, responding to the courage and kindness of the locals as they cope with the trials and fears of survival during wartime. Though a bit heavy handed, this is the central theme of At the Water’s Edge. Toward the end, the narrative descends somewhat into melodrama and romance, but it is heartening to see Maddie’s life grow much richer and more meaningful.

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