Letters from Skye: A Novel by Jessica Brockmole
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Description: A sweeping story told
in letters, spanning two continents and two world wars, Jessica
Brockmole’s atmospheric debut novel captures the indelible ways that
people fall in love, and celebrates the power of the written word to
stir the heart.
March 1912: Twenty-four-year-old Elspeth Dunn,
a published poet, has never seen the world beyond her home on
Scotland’s remote Isle of Skye. So she is astonished when her first fan
letter arrives, from a college student, David Graham, in far-away
America. As the two strike up a correspondence—sharing their favorite
books, wildest hopes, and deepest secrets—their exchanges blossom into
friendship, and eventually into love. But as World War I engulfs Europe
and David volunteers as an ambulance driver on the Western front,
Elspeth can only wait for him on Skye, hoping he’ll survive.
June 1940: At the start of World War II, Elspeth’s daughter, Margaret,
has fallen for a pilot in the Royal Air Force. Her mother warns her
against seeking love in wartime, an admonition Margaret doesn’t
understand. Then, after a bomb rocks Elspeth’s house, and letters that
were hidden in a wall come raining down, Elspeth disappears. Only a
single letter remains as a clue to Elspeth’s whereabouts. As Margaret
sets out to discover where her mother has gone, she must also face the
truth of what happened to her family long ago
My thoughts: What a delightful book! I mean, delightful for a story during war.
Told in four distinct voices with a few cameos throughout, the book is told entirely in letters and two time periods. The first time period is is early during the Great War. Davey sends a fan letter to a poet named Elspeth. They start a congenial pen pal relationship that makes the reader smile and occasionally laugh out loud. Davey is confident, brash, and American-ly familiar. Elspeth requests he stop calling her Mrs. Dunn. She advises that her friends call her Elspeth since that is her name. However, since Davey is not yet categorically a "friend," he may call her whatever he chooses. His response is to choose to call her "Sue." How very random and hilarious. The relationship develops and deepens naturally via correspondence. The become very dependent on one another be there at the end of the letters.
The other part of the story features Margaret, a young woman who lives with her mother in Edinburgh. She has just discovered that she loves her best friend who has proposed to her. He is a soldier in the Royal Air Force and it is now WWII. Margaret's mother responds to the news of her daughter's engagement in a peculiar manner. The bombing of the city reawakens something in her mother who suddenly disappears. Margaret begins the search to find her mother and solve the mystery surrounding what happened to her during the first war and why she is estranged from her family now. Meanwhile, Elspeth is writing letters, trying to track down David. What happened to him? This will eventually be answered.
The relationship between Sue and Davey develops at a natural pace. The tone changes between them yet they stay true to their established personalities. Many themes are explored via their letters and relationship; the many faces of commitment and loyalty, being in love with more than one man, fidelity and infidelity, grace, sin, forgiveness, pride, and the damaging effects of keeping secrets. The book took unexpected twists and turns and I had no idea how it would end. I loved the way it ended. I loved the choices each character makes. I don't love infidelity and but I liked the way it was handled. Both lovers grapple with the guilt and reluctance to end their relationship. Every character shows multi-dimensions. They are all human and fallible; neither good nor bad. They make mistakes, they make choices, the choices have consequences.
Reaching over all of the story through all of the time is the internal battle of loyalty to self and others. When is self loyalty turned to pride? Besides the line, "I will call you Sue," my favorite line is the unexpected words by Davey, "There you are." As if he expected her all along. He's not surprised that she's there. This is extended to those they love throughout the book. There you are, any one of them could say because they show up when they love someone whether it be one another, a sibling, a dear friend, a child, a parent...
It's very difficult to not compare the book to a certain book about the island of Guernsey because there are certainly similarities in general location, time frame and current events. The book is dissimilar enough that it can stand on its own. Not to mention, that certain book about the island of Guernsey is one of a kind but a fantastic introduction to writing a novel strictly through correspondence.
Definitely worth the read. If I didn't compare it with another book, I'd probably give it five stars. But I did compare. I shouldn't have. But I did.