Ideas of marriage tend to be highly charged with beliefs based on upbringing, religion and powerful expectations, so it’s rare to come across a novel where the romance between a married woman and a man a few years her junior. That happens in Letters From Skye, and it is a beautifully rendered romance shedding light on sibling relationships, following your heart, and the challenges of familial love versus obligation – the right to find love based on shared interests, ideals and passion.
Letters From Skye begins when David Graham, an American college student, writes Elspeth Dunn, a young married poet living on the island of Skye in Scotland. She’s intrigued by the fan mail, and when she writes back a friendship is born. They quickly become regular correspondents, sharing their thoughts and dreams and eventually their hearts. The letters between the two start shortly before, and are exchanged, throughout the First World War. Meanwhile the novel and its time period alternate with World War II letters between Elspeth’s daughter Margaret and her fiancé Paul, Margaret and Elspeth, and Elspeth after she vanishes in the wake of a bombing; she’s searching for someone even as her daughter searches for her. Margaret seeks out Elpseth’s estranged family and finds a painful history in doing so.
Letters from Skye is a wonderful read. So few epistolary novels are entirely made composed of letters, but this one isn’t interspersed with any narrative, and it is atmospheric and lovely. Brockmole manages to convey the picture of these sets of young lovers at war time, giving detailed information about the privations of war, the opportunities to fight, the challenges faced in the field and the toll it takes on a the family members and friends worried about their loved ones. The novel ponders issues familiar in the internet age like how true is a relationship when the bulk of it is experienced through writing, and lack face to face interaction? How true are the selves we present, and will our imaginings of another person stand true in the face of reality?
Brockmole balances a lot of information (and very naturally) in the letters in addition to conveying the love and emotion of these relationships. It’s a thoughtful and engaging look at not only love, but also Scottish and American culture at the time of both world wars, providing valuable cultural insight as well as being filled with romances in various states of evolution. Highly Recommended.