Maddie is one of the privileged- upper- class- society with a rich father but a tarnished mother, and a very unhappy home life. Maddie is the only female in a circle of four college friends, and she has married Ellis, one of them. However, it becomes quickly obvious that she will never be accepted by her snobbish-and-exclusive-husband’s family. Partly due to this, and also because of her unhappy childhood memories, Maddie ultimately develops a nervous condition.
Meanwhile, Maddie’s husband Ellis has his own problems. Ellis has been exempted from war service due to color blindness, but the comments made to him about cowardice are more than he can take, even more so because his own war-veteran- father threatens to disown him. So, Ellis decides to prove his worth. Maddie’s husband Ellis and their good friend Hank decide to visit Scotland in this novel set during World War 2, to investigate the sightings of the Loch Ness Monster and prove to the world that it really exists.
However, once they actually reach Scotland, the three friends discover things are not going to be like the socialite world they left behind in America. The inn where they stay is far from comfortable, and these spoiled rich Americans experience the hardships of food rationing, kerosene lighting instead of electricity, tepid water for their baths, and even dangerous, frightening air raids. The hotel staff themselves are taciturn and distant to Maddie, Ellis and Hank, who are treated with suspicion and disdain.
Even worse, during the events of this novel, Maddie becomes herself disillusioned and disappointed with her choice of a marriage partner as her husband begins to steal her prescription pills and descends into alcoholism. Of course along with his addiction, Ellis’s behavior toward Maddie becomes more and more derisive and emotionally abusive. For Maddie, already suffering from low self-esteem due to her mother’s rejection, this is heartbreaking (but it also conveniently works into the story). Maddie becomes more and more attracted to Angus, a Scottish captain who is running the inn where they are staying for the duration of their visit (proving that, if you are in an unhappy marriage, you are more than justified to seek your happiness elsewhere?)
Despite her sometimes foolish choices, the reader cannot help but sympathise with Maddie’s plight! Given her unstable family background, it is almost inevitable that Maddie makes mistakes in judgment. Can she ever find happiness and recover her self-worth? will Ellis ever conquer his addiction and become the fun-loving, happy-go-lucky Ellis she used to know?
I did find this book to be a fast read! The author did a good job portraying Maddie’s shock discovering what war is really like and contrasting it with the ‘spoiled rich kid’ lifestyle. I liked seeing Maddie grow in sensitivity as she learns to disregard her own comfort and help out at the inn, even to the point of being one of the despised servants and waitresses. I liked the friendship that develops between Meg, Anna and Maddie. That Maddie would be so self-sacrificing as to stay up all night caring for Meg when she is injured was admirable. What was not admirable to me was the choice she made at this time (but I do not want to give too many spoilers).
The contrast between life in Scotland during wartime and the civilians’ placid acceptance of difficult conditions, and that of the socially-conscious and affluent culture of America, was well-done. I admired Maddie’s tough outlook and her sensitive nature that allowed her to suffer along with her fellow man, and even though I disagreed with the choice she made, considering her plight and the incredibly difficult circumstances she found herself in, found it understandable.
“I’d never forgotten the wounded men on the SS Mallory, particularly the soldier who had caught my gaze and held it. He opened my eyes, awakening me to a reality I had somehow managed to avoid until that point. While Hank and Ellis carried on without a care in the world, it was men like the burned soldier, Angus, and Anna’s brothers who sacrificed everything to save the rest of us. I wanted to give something back…
And so the plans were laid. For the next few years, the Big House at Craig Gairbh would be a convalescent hospital for injured soldiers.”
Kathryn Stockett (author of “The Help”), Kristin Hannah, and Jodi Picoult all highly recommend this novel. It certainly kept my interest!
The author attempts to contrast the horrors of war with hope:
“Life. There it was. In all its beautiful, tragic fragility, there was still life, and those of us who’d been lucky enough to survive opened our arms wide and embraced it.”