By Jessica Brockmole
Release Date: July 9th, 2013
2013 Ballantine Books
Hardcover Edition; 304 Pages
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher
4 / 5 Stars
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.
Letters From Skye is one of those books I just picked up randomly yesterday as I needed something to read and then I couldn't put it down, even though I was in the midst of something else. I became absorbed to the point of neglecting other things I had to do, including ignoring my fighting children, until I finished it, all in one day. David and Elspeth's love story, during the traumatic events of WW1, was heart-wrenching, inspiring, joyful, and sad, and I found myself turning the pages as quickly as I could, wondering what was going to happen to them.
The story is told through a series of letters as well as in two different time periods, jumping back and forth between the events. The first story is a series of letters between Davey and 'Sue' (Elspeth), a nickname that Davey comes up with at the beginning of their correspondence, which kinds of sticks. At first, they are just two friends sharing secrets and interests with one another, but you can sense the loneliness and need behind the writing, and as they letters get more intimate, you can interpret and feel how the writing changes. I found it quite fascinating and have to give the author a lot of credit for her writing ability as it couldn't have been easy to show how these two people fell in love through their letters this way. I felt very sympathetic towards both of these characters and was amazed how that could happen through a series of personal letters. You could sense the anguish as both characters had to deal with infidelity and the consequences of their choices and the effects it had on both of their families. And the big theme running through these letters was choice: people had choices in their lives and should have the right to make the choice that was right for them, otherwise the consequences could be dreadful for everyone involved. There were some aspects where the dishonesty did have consequences on Elspeth's brothers, but it didn't really go any further and I wish it had as it is such an important theme, especially when infidelity is involved. I am just not sure that the author went deep enough into these themes to do them justice in the novel.
The other story was about Elspeth's daughter, Margaret, who knows nothing about her mother's past nor about her family history. This story takes place during WWII and when a bomb drops on Elspeth's apartment, something seems to crack inside her, and she disappears. We learn through letters interwoven through Margaret's search for her mother and her family, that she is now searching for Davey and what happened during WWI. It leads to a lot of anticipation as you know that something happened to separate Davey and Elspeth, but you are left wondering what and how and why throughout the rest of the novel, which is what kept the pages turning for me. I just couldn't put it down as I had to know what happened. And the ending was totally satisfactory.
Letters From Skye is definitely not what a expected when I first started reading it; it's one of those gems that pop up once in a while and makes you forget that there are things to do in life, like eat and take care of kids, when all you want to do is snuggle up and keep reading. I thought the interwoven stories added a lot of drama and suspense to the novel, which made it a lot of fun to read as I had no idea what was going to happen. I also thought the letters would take away from my empathy with the characters, but I actually felt closer to them, which often happens when dealing with a POV in the first person. It also made me think about how people really cherished letters in the past and what it was like to receive a letter in the mail after weeks of anticipation. We are so tech-based it is hard to understand the anguish and despair that people felt during these time periods as they waited to hear from loved ones who were at war. I highly recommend this novel to anyone who is interested in a good love story written in a slightly different style from what they are used to.