I always think that epistolary novels, ones told in the form of letters, must be much more rewarding to read than to write. While hearing the characters’ own voices makes them much more real for the reader, it’s such a test of the writer’s skill to strike a balance between letting us know what we need to know without making the letter-writers sound false.
Jessica Brockmole gets the balance spot on with Letters from Skye, as we read a series of letters between college student David Graham in Illinois and poet Elspeth Dunn on the Isle of Skye. The year is 1912 and they have no idea that their youthful attachment will be transformed by distance, war and plain, old fashioned shyness.
David and Elspeth’s story from 1912 is intertwined with that of Elspeth’s grown-up daughter, Margaret, a headstrong young woman who is recently engaged to be married. A air raid on Elspeth and Margaret’s Edinburgh flat reveals the letters that Elspeth has tried so hard to hide and forces Margaret to ask the questions about her family that she has never dared ask before.
The love story depicted in Letters from Skye is very gentle and, ok the war getting in the way is pretty dramatic, but overall you get the sense that you’re just dealing with two people who care deeply about each other and nothing really is going to get in the way of that. The final revelations of the book are satisfyingly romantic and provide a perfect resolution – there are no threads left hanging here and it suits the rest of the book very well, but it certainly isn’t to say that it is predictable – on the contrary, there are a few surprises left in store by the end.
I’m very interested in the early part of the 20th Century, and the First World War, so this book was immediate winner with me. The period detail is so well described, without the characters being obvious ‘Oh look, here comes an Omnibus, Guvnor’ etc, and for a debut author, it is tremendously well done. I’m so glad that the book lived up to my expectations of it and it’s definitely one to re-read in future.