Welcome to British Isles Friday! British Isles Friday is a weekly event for sharing all things British and Irish — reviews, photos, opinions, trip reports, guides, links, resources, personal stories, interviews, and research posts. Join us each Friday to link your British and Irish themed content and to see what others have to share. The link list is at the bottom of this post. Pour a cup of tea or lift a pint and join our link party!
Last week, I blamed my lack of a post on my husband’s adventures with appendicitis (he’s much better, now — thanks for all of your support!). Tina is holding onto her appreciation of Tana French even though the most recent novel, The Secret Place, drove her crazy. Jackie shared photos of a 1987 trip to London, with a very different skyline than now. Becky gave us plot summaries for all six episodes of the first season of Call the Midwife and found a radio drama of Cyrano de Bergerac, originally aired on BBC Radio. Sim’s fantasy walk in London took us to Trafalgar Square — in her memory and an old photograph, it’s filled with pigeons.
Book: At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Bond Street Books
Publication date: 2015
Source: e-book from the library
Summary: Water for Elephants, the previous novel that I’ve read by Sara Gruen, fascinated me because if its Depression-era circus setting. In At the Water’s Edge, Gruen brings us a new tale set during World War II and featuring a search for the Loch Ness monster.
Maddie and her husband, Ellis, and his best friend, Hank, are in trouble in Philadelphia society after they make fools of themselves at a New Year’s Eve Party. Their solution? Save the reputation of Colonel Hyde, the father of Ellis, by proving that the Loch Ness monster really does exist and that the Colonel’s photograph, taken a decade earlier, wasn’t a fake. Never mind that this means a risky trip across an ocean infested by U-boats and, then, setting up living quarters at the front for the Battle of Britain.
Thoughts: I read a number of other reviews of this book on Goodreads to help me gather my thoughts on this book. The reviews are all over the place — as are my thoughts.
Compulsively readable. It took awhile to get into it, but once I did, I had a hard time putting this book down. Even in spite of the aspects that I had trouble with.
Character arc of the heroine. I don’t want to give the plot away, so let’s just say that it’s worth waiting through how horrible she is at the beginning.
The love story. Again, I don’t want to give anything away, but I liked this aspect even though many reviewers didn’t.
The history. World War II and the Loch Ness monster in the same story? I’m in.
The setting. Scotland, complete with strong Scottish women and taciturn Scottish men.
Unlikable characters. The three main characters at the beginning of the book are overly privileged and under-aware of that privilege. There’s a war on and, yet, these three are into partying hard and spending their parents’ money. I realized, though, that part of my problem is my own overly-romantic view of World War II. Just because most of the stories I’ve read are about people heroically rising to the cause doesn’t mean that there weren’t plenty of people, in real life, who behaved exactly as Hank, Ellis, and Maddie did — working very hard to make sure that the war effected them as little as possible. Most reviewers on Goodreads mentioned this — some objecting to it more than others (a fair number quit reading before the characters even make it to Scotland).
The villain. I can’t write this without spoiling some of the story, so skip to the Appeal section if the Pros sounded good enough to you. Maybe because the role of privilege was such a big part of this story, I got to thinking about the privilege of the author. What do we think about a heterosexual female author casting a homosexual man as her villain? I only saw one reviewer on Goodreads object to this aspect. But, it felt like a fetish to me, like those romance novels with Native American heroes and white heroines. We don’t have enough books by people of color or by people who aren’t heteronormative for those of us on the dominate side of those lines to haphazardly throw those characters into our stories without a great deal of self-examination. Otherwise, we risk an unwitting revelation of our unconscious biases. I was uncomfortable witnessing that in this novel. In other words, I got to the end asking “How would this book be different if it were written by a gay man?” One answer, I suspect, is that it would be about code-breakers instead of draft-dodgers. I would totally read that.
Appeal: The broadest appeal will be for historical fiction aficionados who can stand a bit of romance in the story.
Have you read this book? What did you think?