This is a blogoversary re- post- this review was originally posted on July 23rd, 2013 and can be found here. Also see my interview with Jessica Brockmole here.
Letters from Skye is a love story told in letters. It’s told from the alternating viewpoints of Elspeth Dunn, a published poet living on the
Isle of Skye during World War I, and her daughter Margaret in the early days of World War II. Elspeth receives a fan letter from an American in 1912, and this leads to a correspondence that changes their lives forever. Through the seasons and the storm clouds of war Elspeth and "her American" get to know each other, and share their favorite books, their dreams, their hopes and desires. Life is complicated and messy however, and not all is smooth sailing for Elspeth and David.
Margaret is in love with a gallant young RAF pilot in the early days of World War II. He proposes marriage, and Margaret isn’t sure what to do. She lives in
Edinburgh with her mother, who counsels her to make no rash decisions in wartime. Then one day a bomb hits nearby, a wall collapses… and Margaret discovers the letters. The letters from twenty years ago, a lifetime ago. Letters to her mother from an American. The love stories of Elspeth and David, Margaret and Paul intertwine as events change their lives and make them question who they are, and what they care about most.
This love story felt so real from the very beginning, from the tentative way David starts their correspondence (who can’t relate to that?) to the increasing confidence the two of them feel as the months and years slip by, to the realization that they are, truly, in love. I’m sure most people can relate to that moment. Often it’s one of the singular moments in a persons life. Here we get a feel for that, as these characters admit to each other what they’ve known, deep down, for some time. It’s very well done.
I love how the story was told entirely in letters. I even found myself flipping back to see how many days had gone by between letters! Talk about being sucked into the story. In the early going I much preferred Elspeth and Davey’s letters, to Margaret’s, but by the end of the book as the stories converged I was looking forward to Margaret’s next move as she tried to bring resolution to the story.
I also enjoyed the humor in this story. David’s college pranks and Elspeth’s dry wit were a fun combination in the early going, and as the story progressed and got more serious, they kept their sense of humor and wit. There are twists and turns and a few surprises, but throughout it all these characters stay true to themselves. In this modern age, it was fascinating to see these lives and relationships develop through letters- subject to the vagaries of circumstance. A simple letter- so important to these people.
This book touches on many different themes, from longing and hope to regret and loss. One of the things that got me thinking was the relationship between Elspeth and Margaret. Parents and children can know each other so well, and yet at the same time know so little about each other. Parents have years of history before their kids come along, and the memories they take for granted- youth, high school, romances- their kids know nothing of. Brockmole touches on this. We learn so much about Elspeth, her loves and regrets, then we switch to Margaret and it’s amazing how little she knows of her mothers past.