Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Book Review: Letters From Skye by Jessica Brockmole


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.

Ballantine Books | July 9th, 2013 | 304 pages

My Review

4.5 Stars

Letters From Skye, Jessica Brockmole's debut novel, is a beautifully written love story.  It is told through a series of letters that span World Wars One and Two.  The book opens on Scotland's beautiful but isolated Isle of Skye, where young poet Elspeth Dunn has just received her first letter from a fan, American medical student David Graham.   David's letter turns out to be the first of many exchanged between the two.  Although they start off as friends, as their correspondence continues Elspeth and David's relationship develops into something much deeper.  Although separated first by an ocean, and then by a war, Elspeth and David's love remains constant.  But David's involvement in the war, as an ambulance driver in France, puts him directly in harm's way, and Elspeth can only hope that her love is strong enough to keep him safe.  

Interspersed with Elspeth and David's tale is that of Margaret Dunn's, Elspeth's daughter, who, at the start of the Second World War, has fallen for her childhood friend, Paul.  But Paul is a pilot in the Royal Air Force, and Elspeth cautions her daughter about becoming involved with someone who must leave for the war.  At first Margaret doesn't understand her mother's reluctance, but when a German bomb hits Elspeth's home, and Elspeth disappears shortly thereafter, the only sign Margaret has as to her mother's whereabouts is an old letter.  Armed with just this one letter, Margaret sets out not only to find her mother, but also to uncover the truth about Elspeth's early life.   

I don't usually gush over books, but Letters From Skye will definitely make my list of favourites this year.  I was captivated by the characters and their stories right from the opening pages, and loved that the entire novel was told through a series of letters.  Elspeth and David, whose every hope, dream and disappointment is successfully conveyed to the reader, felt very real to me and nothing about their love story felt contrived.  Each letter transitions well from one to the next, and it is always clear who the author and intended recipient is.  Although not the only setting in the novel, the Isle of Skye was my clear favourite.   Jessica Brockmole effectively captures Skye's isolation and its ruggedness, as well clearly conveys the hardiness of its people.  Brockmole also does a good job of incorporating everyday aspects of life into this novel.  As a result, Letters From Skye gives the reader a very strong sense of time.  I'm very much looking forward to reading more from Jessica Brockmole. 

I highly recommend Letters From Skye to all historical fiction fans. 

Note: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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