Thursday, September 5, 2013

Shelf Life [adult]

Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole

An epistolary novel is one written as a series of letters or diary entries. Generally this makes them both quick to read and very tantalizing, as readers become virtual voyeurs into the lives of those penning the letters. Letters from Skye is this kind of novel, and also one that time-shifts to a certain extent. Elspeth Dunn, a poet on the Isle of Skye in Scotland is flattered to get a letter from a fan from America, a young man named Davey. Where Davey has bravado and gumption, Elspeth is spirited but cautious. Where Davey is uncertain of his future, Elspeth knows where she belongs. Yet so begins a long correspondence through which they encourage each other, share dreams and fears, and eventually fall deeply in love. World War I brings Davey to Europe and they are finally able to meet, but with devastating consequences.

A mere 20-odd years later on the eve of World War II, Margaret visits her mother Elspeth in Edinburgh to tell her she and her childhood sweetheart have become engaged, even though Paul has joined up to fight. Elspeth is furious but before Margaret can discern why, the house is nearly destroyed by a bomb and Margaret finds her shocked mother clutching a sheaf of letters from someone named Davey to a woman called Sue. And then... Elspeth disappears.

Elspeth has always hidden part of her past from Margaret, and now Margaret is determined to reach out to relatives she has never met to both find her mother and mend their rift, and discover what it was in her mother's past that made her shut herself off from part of the world. Thus readers are treated to not only Elspeth's full story, but Margaret's discovery of a family, a history and a mother she never really knew.

Although more bittersweet in nature, Letters from Skye is sure to please readers who enjoyed other epistolary novels like The Guernsey Literary and Potato-Peel Society, or novels of deep and enduring love, like Samatha Sotto's Before Ever After.   Find Letters from Skye under the tag Shelf Life Reviewed at

This review appears in The Stratford Gazette on September 5, 2013. Written by Robyn Godfrey, Librarian.

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