Title: Letters from Skye: A Novel
Author: Jessica Brockmole
Format: Hardcover, eBook and AudioBook
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical, Woman Centric
Purchase Now: Amazon § Audible § Barnes & Noble
About the Book:
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.
Sparkling with charm and full of captivating period detail, Letters from Skye is a testament to the power of love to overcome great adversity, and marks Jessica Brockmole as a stunning new literary voice.
When I read the premise of this story, I was instantly excited: I love books that manage to tell a story using correspondence from characters and many of my favorite reads have used actual correspondence from historical characters to elucidate the story and provide insight into the people that are long gone.
Brockmore creates that same elucidation in her fictional characters, giving us a sense of their voice and what is important to them as they impart stories of their daily activities in letters. The use of the letters brings an instant connection to the character’s thoughts and approach as the text brings their voices forward, clearly and distinctly, and draws you into the story unlike a long introduction would have.
First up is Elspeth, a published poetess living in Skye. Her correspondence starts when David, an American university student sends her a fan letter, and they begin to correspond as pen pals. The contrast in the two styles, the scenery and life depictions are deliciously penned with a subtle use of voicing changes to illustrate the deepening connection between the two. With screenshots that depict the Isle of Skye, and Elspeth’s rhythmical use of language both feel totally of the moment (early 20th century) and totally modern. When the war intercedes and David’s tales are more filled with danger and that curious mix of bravado and fear, the moments are as clearly depicted as a film, and the slow revelation of the connection that is deeper than friendship starts to appear.
When Elspeth’s daughter Margaret discovers this cache of letters, her investigations and curiosity are also well documented as she delves into the mystery to discover the why’s of her mother’s hidden life. While I could easily empathize with her curiosity, I didn’t feel as connected to her, which saddened me. Not as eloquent as her mother and lacking that connection that was so apparent in the letters between her mother and David, her story was a necessary but less gripping part of the book for me.
Throughout the story the juxtaposition of now and then were running through my mind: the time between letters, the fully fleshed out thoughts and lyrical phrasing so missing in today’s email and text ridden times, and most of all imagining the letters themselves: creased and delicate with evidence of frequent reading. This was a tremendously satisfying read that incorporated romance, history and even a touch of travelogue into a book that is the perfect read for a quiet afternoon.
I received an ARC copy of the book from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.