Author: Sara Gruen
Publication Date: March 31st, 2015
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Number of Pages: 368
Genre: Historical Fiction, Adult Fiction, Romance
In her stunning new novel, Gruen returns to the kind of storytelling she excelled at in Water for Elephants: a historical timeframe in an unusual setting with a moving love story. Think Scottish Downton Abbey.
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.
I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
I knew nothing about this book when I first started reading it. I kind of figured that it’d be some type of historical fiction book, but I was in no way prepared for what the book actually was about.
In a sentence: Woman follows her douchebag husband and his best friend to Scotland to search for Nessie and realizes that her marriage is doomed.
This book didn’t actually have a lot of action. It was focused more on the character development and relationships of the protagonist and other characters. But this part was done so fabulously.
I’d like to say that Ellis is one of the ugliest, most douchebaggy characters I have ever had the misfortune of reading about. He’s sexist, condescending, lying, horrible, just ew. I really really hated him. I thought that the relationship between these three characters was done really really well. We learn about how their friendship developed and the way they treat each other. It’s complex and my favorite part of the characters.
Obviously Maddie was going to end up with someone else by the end of the book (because, as mentioned, Ellis is a jerk). It’s one of the central aspects of the entire plot. It was just a matter of when and how she did it. It took her a while, but she did end up getting there.
So now that Ellis is out of the picture, we can begin to talk about her new romance. While Ellis and Hank are off tromping around in a lake, trying to find Nessie, Maddie is stuck back at the boarding house they stay at. As she begins to learn about herself, she begins to notice Angus, the laird of the boarding house. He has a tragic past, one in which is previous wife committed suicide. I… thought it was a little weird. Angus felt like he was really old (he was 33 when his ex-wife died) but the book takes place about three years later. His character felt positively ancient compared to Maddie, but that might just be me. Not to forget that their interactions were far and few between until the last third of the book. I didn’t feel like there was any chemistry between them nor did I believe that they loved each other. It would have been so much better if Maddie wasn’t so terrified of facing him alone for the entire book. I thought it wasn’t done very well.
I found the plot kind of sweet. Although it was just Maddie learning about how she could break away from Ellis and how she could become a better person, and could have been boring, I really liked it! There was a lot of character development and realizations that Maddie makes that were critical to the book. She learns more about the social standards and the women in the town. She realizes that her marriage royally sucks. There’s a lot of stuff she learns and I enjoyed reading about it. If you were expecting long quests to find the Loch Ness Monster, this isn’t the book to read.
And as for the end of the book…. well I didn’t like it. I already talked about how the romance felt unbelievable. The way that things work out with Ellis is even more unbelievable but I’ll refrain from spoilers. The Nessie aspect seems to become no more than a pretty attachment to the book by the end because it seemed so glossed over. Nevertheless, I actually did enjoy this book. It seems that most people liked Water for Elephants even more, so that definitely makes me excited to read it!