Poet Elspeth Dunn isn’t sure what to make of her first fan letter. Arriving in Scotland’s Isle of Skye all the way from America, its author — a young college student named David Graham — has a way with words himself. As David reveals more of his life through their continued correspondence and Elspeth finds herself opening up, too, their friendship — flourishing just before the onslaught of World War I — gradually turns to love.
Having never left the Isle of Skye, any plans to meet in person are thwarted by Elspeth’s fears . . . until she pushes herself to venture outside the isolated landscape. They unite just before David leaves to volunteer as an ambulance driver in France, leaving Elspeth to savor and sort through their stolen days together. Two decades later, Elspeth’s daughter stumbles across the countless letters her mother exchanged with a mysterious American and struggles with her own romantic entanglements at the start of World War II. In 1940, Elspeth’s world has greatly changed — but it also hasn’t. Whatever became of David? Is the past really past?
Jessica Brockmole’s Letters From Skye has enough atmosphere and carefully-curated twists to keep readers invested in its wartime-era drama, spanning two battles and countless family struggles. Told entirely through letters, most passed between Elspeth and David, it’s a romance that unfolds on the page and emphasizes the power of the written word.
Given I’m such a mail nerd, I was all over this.
And I enjoyed it. I actually picked up Letters from Skye after my fiance began emailing me breathtaking photos from the remote Scottish area, his “subtle” way of suggesting we add it to our shortlist for honeymoon destinations. The Isle of Skye is undeniably beautiful, and the idea of anyone living in such an isolated area — especially 100 years ago, when communication was relegated to the occasional slow-moving letter and the ferry your only transportation option — was fascinating.
In terms of place, which plays such an important role in the novel, Skye didn’t disappoint. It was easy to picture Elspeth writing poetry and letters by candlelight, battening down the hatches as a cold wind blows. David’s letters from Chicago held the American warmth and charm one would expect from an optimistic young man on the other side of the Atlantic, and their chemistry on the page was clear. As they laid their hearts through cursive, especially Elspeth’s heavy burdens, it was hard to feel indifferent to their plight.
But something — maybe something small; maybe something big — was missing to push this novel up to 4-star status for me. David was dashing and their romance interesting, but I remained disconnected from Elspeth. Maybe part of it was switching so rapidly between time periods? One second we’re in 1913, the next in 1940. Bombs are falling in Edinburgh just before a younger Elspeth is writing in Skye. Though each chapter and letter is clearly marked, the transitions felt herky-jerky at times. Elspeth’s daughter, Margaret, is enjoying a romance with a young British pilot, but I didn’t feel I really knew or understood her until the end . . . and because her character was never really explored, I couldn’t get psyched about the decisions she was making.
But maybe I’m being overly critical. For those who enjoy historical fiction, as I do, this World War I- and II-era love story spun in enough directions that I was never bored, never flipping pages just to flip ’em. I rooted for the young lovers, even as things got extraordinarily complicated, and the boom! of an ending was totally worth the price of admission. It’s a memorable scene and a powerful one — sweet, maybe not unexpected . . . but I can’t say I wasn’t pleased with how it all turned out.
If WWII-era London or Edinburgh gets your blood pumping or you simply love the epistolary format, Letters from Skye is an engaging read that satisfied my anglophile thirst. I was glad Brockmole didn’t leave us adrift in a loch, making sure to wrap up the messy ends, and I appreciated the additional explorations of family, sacrifice and love. A quick, enjoyable read.
3.5 out of 5!