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August 18, 2015

Review: At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen

by Donna Huber

cover At the Water's Edge
Drumnadrochit, February 28, 1942
Agnes Mairi Grant,
Duaghter of Angus and Mairi Grant
January 14th, 1942
Cpt. Angus Duncan Grant,
Beloved Husband of Mairi
April 2nd, 1909 - January 1942
The headstone was modest and hewn of black granite, granite being on of the few things never in short supply in Glenurquhart, even during the present difficulty.
Mairi visited the tiny swell of earth that covered her daughter's coffin every day, watching as it flattened. Archie the Stonecutter had said it might be months before they could put up the stone with the frost so hard upon them, but the coffin was so small the leveling was accomplished in just a few weeks.
No sooner was the stone up than Mairi got the telegram about Angus and had Archie take it away again. Archie had wanted to wait until the date of death was verified, but Mairi needed it done then, to have a place to mourn them both at once, and Archie could not say no. He chiseled Angus's name beneath his daughter's and left some room to add the day of the month when they learned it. An addition for an absence, because Angus - unlike the wee bairn - was not beneath it and almost certainly never would be.
The Review

I kept being drawn to the cover of At the Water's Edge every time I went to the digital library, yet the book was never available. Finally I decided I would put a hold on it since it didn't look like it was going to become available any time soon and I wouldn't ever get to listen to it if I didn't. I loved the audio book for Water for Elephants (read my review) and hoped that this would be another wonderfully told story.

I will admit that it took me a bit to get into this story. I couldn't even remember how it started. But eventually I was drawn into the world of privilege and want. As I learned more about Maddie the more engrossed in the story I became. Ellis, and Hank to lesser extent, were excellent creatures of scorn. I say to a lesser extent for Hank because I'm think he was taken in by Ellis's "charm" and overlooked things. Maybe it was partly because of breeding. Hank and Ellis are from the upper American crust.

Maddie was quite naive, though I can see how someone as lonely and ignored would be blinded by the attention of wealthier, more socially adept peers. But really what self-respecting woman would marry a man because of a coin toss? I know times were different and woman were not able to be as independent as they are now.

Unfortunately when Maddie took off the blinders she found herself in a perilous situation - in a foreign land with a ruthless husband that threatened to shut her up in an asylum for treatment of her nervous condition. But would he want her cured? Wouldn't that mean an end to her pills that he so eagerly devours? If only it served a higher purpose, for Ellis was only concerned with what would serve him. If it meant he could return to the family fold a redeemed man.

I loved the mix of characters at the Scottish inn that Ellis and Hank practically abandon Maddie at. I love a good World War II story and though the war ravishes on the Scottish Highlands are quite removed from it all - aside from the rationing of food and fuel and, of course, the arrival of the occasional telegram heralding bad news.

Justine Eyre does a wonderful job as narrator for the audio book, but I think I would have connected with the story faster if I had been reading it myself. Unlike Water for Elephants, which lent itself to the oral tradition of storytelling, At the Water's Edge is a more intricate story where what is not said is just as important as what is said. The depth of the story can only be revealed by the re-reading of passages, which is not easily done when listening to the audio book.

If you are a Downton Abbey fan, it may tide you over until the start of the new season. When Hank and Ellis are around, there is also bit of a Great Gatsby feel to the story.

Anyone who loves eloquently woven stories will no doubt enjoy At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen

Buy At the Water's Edge at Amazon

Book info:
available formats: ebook, audio, print (368 pages)
published: March 2015 by Random House Audio
ISBN13: 9781101889374
genre: historical fiction 
source: digital library
listened to: August 2015

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  1. I've got this book on my list. I loved Water For Elephants and I know this one isn't at all the same, but the Downton Abbey reference. Can't wait until the new season - the last. :-(

    1. It did remind me of the season of Downton Abbey that took place during WWI. At the Water's Edge is about 20 years later and features wealthy Americans, but I still think fans of the show will enjoy this book. Don't remind that we are getting the last season of Downton Abbey. I saw a spoiler that made me sad, but I also read that there might be a prequel of sorts in the works. I would love to see Maggie Smith as the Countess in charge of Downton Abbey.

  2. I'd read another book by Gruen. This one looks good.

  3. I haven't even read Water for Elephants, yet...I don't know why. But I love the sound of this one. Thanks for sharing...and here's mine: “THE SUMMER GIRLS”

  4. The cover is nice, I agree! I have a copy of this one and am looking forward to reading it. I am glad you ended up liking it despite having difficulty getting into it at first. I have yet to read Water for Elephants, although I do have a copy. I admit this one appeals to me more for some reason so I'll probably read it first.

  5. I like this opening, so I'd keep reading!

  6. Donna, I've been meaning to try this one, it sounds fairly good to me.