Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Review: The Edge of the Earth

Summary: In 1898, a woman forsakes the comfort of home and family for a love that takes her to a remote lighthouse on the wild coast of California. What she finds at the edge of the earth, hidden between the sea and the fog, will change her life irrevocably.

Trudy, who can argue Kant over dinner and play a respectable portion of Mozart’s Serenade in G major, has been raised to marry her childhood friend and assume a life of bourgeois comfort in Milwaukee. She knows she should be pleased, but she’s restless instead, yearning for something she lacks even the vocabulary to articulate. When she falls in love with enigmatic and ambitious Oskar, she believes she’s found her escape from the banality of her preordained life. 

But escape turns out to be more fraught than Trudy had imagined. Alienated from family and friends, the couple moves across the country to take a job at a lighthouse at Point Lucia, California—an unnervingly isolated outcropping, trapped between the ocean and hundreds of miles of inaccessible wilderness. There they meet the light station’s only inhabitants—the formidable and guarded Crawleys. In this unfamiliar place, Trudy will find that nothing is as she might have predicted, especially after she discovers what hides among the rocks. 

Gorgeously detailed, swiftly paced, and anchored in the dramatic geography of the remote and eternally mesmerizing Big Sur, The Edge of the Earth is a magical story of secrets and self-transformation, ruses and rebirths. Christina Schwarz, celebrated for her rich evocation of place and vivid, unpredictable characters, has spun another haunting and unforgettable tale. -- Atria

THE EDGE OF THE EARTH by Christina Schwarz is the second book I've read in recent months that takes place on an isolated island with a lighthouse. The other novel was THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS by M.L. Stedman which I absolutely loved -- you can read my review here. While both novels dealt with the theme of isolation and were beautifully written, they actually were quite different.

I remember reading and enjoying Ms. Schwarz's novel DROWNING RUTH when Oprah selected it many years ago for her book club, so I figured THE EDGE OF THE EARTH was definitely worth a peek. And you know what? I was absolutely right in deciding to pick up this novel. It was a lovely story filled with some memorable characters and even a little bit of mystery and intrigue!

THE EDGE OF THE EARTH tells the story of Trudy, a young woman who decides to give up her home and family to follow the man she loves to a remote island in California. It has always been assumed that Trudy will end up with her longtime family friend and live near her family in Milwaukee; however, Trudy has always wanted something more. So when the charismatic Oskar enters her life, Trudy falls in love with him and figures he's the answer to her all of her desires.

Trudy and Oskar move to Point Lucia, California for Oskar's job at a lighthouse. The island is extremely isolated except for the Crawleys. Life isn't what Trudy expected but she finds some pleasure in exploring the island and teaching the Crawley children. She throws herself into learning about the local marine life as well as investigating the children's rumors of seeing a mermaid. However, Oskar's unfulfilled dreams cause him to become morose and distant, and Trudy begins to question her decision to marry Oskar.

I found THE EDGE OF THE EARTH to be a beautifully written novel and I enjoyed it quite a bit. There is no doubt that Ms. Schwarz is an incredible writer. I especially appreciated how she brought the time period and the setting to life. Her detailed descriptions of the remote island were extremely vivid and I could picture the wonder and beauty of this area perfectly. However, I also liked how she captured just how isolated the characters were while living there. I like to say that I'm a loner but I don't know if I'd last more than a week or so without regular contact from my friends and family. The way the author brought to life Trudy's feelings of isolation, both from society on the island as well as her relationship with her husband, was just so well done and so very real to me.

Another aspect of this novel that I enjoyed was the "mystery" surrounding the mermaid. I don't know if mystery is actually the correct word, but I liked following Trudy as she discovered the truth behind the children's rumors. I've seen a review or two that mentioned this aspect took away from the novel and I'm not entirely sure I agree. I think Trudy's desire to learn the secrets behind this woman was one of the things that kept Trudy sane in an otherwise desperate situation. I also think this storyline and character were critical to the tragedy that occurs near the end of the novel.

THE EDGE OF THE EARTH would make a wonderful book club selection. There is a reading guide available with thirteen questions along with some ideas to enhance your meeting. Some of the themes you might want to explore include isolation, love, dreams, hope, ambition, the role of women in the late 1800s, identity, materiality, and redemption. You also might want to discuss some of the major symbols in the story including the concept of light.

I thoroughly enjoyed THE EDGE OF THE EARTH and once again, I was very impressed with Ms. Schwarz's writing. Highly recommended to fans of literary fiction.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.


bermudaonion said...

I enjoyed Drowning Ruth, too, and figured this one would be good. It sounds like I was right.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I always enjoy this author because of the Wisconsin connection!

Beth Hoffman said...

I read Drowning Ruth several years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm eager to crack the spine on this one!

Beth F said...

I have this on my list and I'm so glad you liked it. A little solitude sounds good sometimes.