Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole

This is a first novel for Jessica Brockmole, a beautiful romance spanning the two World Wars. I picked it up because I have a fondness for letters, and I love that this is written solely in letter format. The language used feels appropriate to the times in the story, but purists will be upset by the length of some of the letters. No-one, in those times, would have wasted postage on sending a single sentence, often crossing the paper on both sides, to get more onto a single sheet.

People seem to reveal more of themselves in letters. It seems to be a contemplative exercise, almost meditative. More of your hopes, dreams, and observations come out when you are writing, and if you are writing to someone you have never met, it is easier to write things that you would never tell someone.

Such is the case between David Graham, a cocky young American, attending University, and Elspeth Dunn, a young married poet, living on the Isle of Skye. They start writing to each other in 1912, and continue right through WWI.

Every alternate chapter focusses on Elspeth's daughter, Margaret, who is embarking on a wartime romance in WWII. Her mother is concerned about her, saying "a letter isn't always just a letter. Words on the page can drench the soul." (page 16)

Category: Fiction

Who'll want to read it? People who love letters, who love delving into stories of the past. Romantics.

Point of no return: page 9: "Dear Rumpelstiltskin, If you teach me to play the cornet, I'll teach you to dance!"

Classic paragraph: page 173: "The whole back of the cottage, the side facing out to the sea, glowed with colour. It was like an Italian fresco, caught in the Hebrides. The lime-washed wall was covered with whorls and curves of paintings, some straight out of the Gaelic legends and lullabies Mother would rock me to sleep with. Selkie women slipping from their sealskins on the beach. A ring of fairies dancing around a shuddering green flame. A woman dressed in rose petals on top of a crag, her tears running down to the sea. The pictures merged and overlapped. A couple waltzing. A bowl of oranges. A pink pearl gleaming within an open oyster. Then images I knew could have come only from the last war. An ambulance hurtling past an explosion, while rows of boys marched by. The driver of the ambulance leaned out of the window, his face tilted towards the lock, and  I swear there was a gleam in his brown-green eyes."

Publisher: Ballantine Books

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