I read Sara Gruen’s bestselling novel Water for Elephants whilst on holiday earlier this year and found it perfect poolside reading; easy enough to read at an angle on a sun lounger without having to concentrate too much, yet exciting and gripping enough to keep my interest.
This book, unfortunately, is none of these things.
When Maddie and her obviously awful husband Ellis are banished from their Philadelphia society home after being scandelously intoxicated at the 1942 New Years Eve Ball, Ellis and his friend and enabler Hank decide to up sticks and move to Scotland, find the Loch Ness Monster, and gain Ellis’ father’s respect, plus international fame. Maddie is dragged unwillingly along and it soon turns out that Maddie has been dragged along on the whims of others for must of her life.
Finding herself pretty much abandoned in Scotland by an increasingly abusive and intoxicated husband, she turns to the staff of the hotel they are staying in, and makes friends with the local women. With the war having raged in Europe for three years there is tension between the locals who have suffered losses, the Canadian soldiers encamped nearby, and Ellis and Hank, who are both conveniently declared medically unfit for duty.
The problem this book has it that is is about seven stories at once; the story of a marriage falling apart; the story of how rich people avoid war and live in selfish weird bubbles; the story of the Loch Ness Monster, and of that part of Scotland; the story of how women coped during war time; a ghost story, and then, at the end, for no apparent reason and with no build up whatsoever, a love story. I just found myself lost and confused and not relating with any of the characters.
Maddie’s story is sad, and really effecting and well written, but she changes so much as a character over the course of the book (the last 80 pages especially are just such a massive volte face). It is just unbelievable that a woman with that level of emotional torment and tragedy could be ‘fixed’ by doing a bit of housework, learning to curl her own hair, and actually talking to an actual woman, in six weeks. Ellis is horrible, but the potential for tension is never really explored, and the ‘love interest’ part of the book is so unconvincing as to actually be farcical-I was going to rate the book higher that I did for the quality of writing but the love story just put me off completely.
I’ll read more of Gruen’s work, because she is a good writer, but this is the sort of book that could have been so much BETTER than it was with a few plot edits and a better grasp on the narrative.