Sometimes the volumes of books I receive mean that titles get lost at the bottom of the To be Read pile and this is what happened to Letters from Skye. I was sorting through the pile last week and found Jessica Brockmole's book, got cross I had left it so long, and opened it and glanced at the first page. And then I sat down and I read and I read and I read....
One of those delightful lovely books that catch your heart. The last one that did something similar was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and it is no coincidence that they both share the same style - they are epistolary and the narrative is driven by a series of letters. In fact, that is the wrong thing to say because there is no narrative. I suppose I ought to say the plot is driven. Sorry, waffling...
With letters there are no descriptions, no background scene to set and it is up to us, the reader, to conjure up a picture in our minds of what the characters look like and imagine the scenery and setting. As I have never been to Skye and long to do so, I just let my mind run free and conjoured up beautiful pictures of hills and green and water and it was wonderful to let my mind wander.
The book starts with an exchange of letters between a young American from Illinois who writes to Elspeth Dunn to express his admiration for her book of poetry, An Eagle's Aerie. Elspeth replies "You should have seen the stir in our tiny post office, everyone gathered to watch me read my first letter from a 'fan' as you Americans would say. I think the poor souls thought no-one outside our island had every laid eyes on my poetry"
From small beginnings, great things grow and the correspondence flourishes. We learn that David is at college studying science though he dislikes it and really wants to study American Literature. He has a stern and disapproving father who will not fund this mad idea and wants him to join him in his medical practice. He has a sympathetic listener in Elspeth.
The letters start in March 1912 and as the years go by and the volume of letters grow, it becomes clear to both of them that they have fallen in love. Elspeth has never left Skye because of a morbid fear of the water, but her love overcomes her phobia and when the First World War starts and David is in the UK, she meets him.
We are then introduced to a further correspondence, this time in 1940 at the start of the Second World War and we meet Margaret, Elspeth's daughter, who has always wanted to know about her father about whom her mother has never spoken. Her curiousity is aroused when she discovers a collection of letters in a trunk addressed to somebody called 'Sue'. When her mother refuses to discuss them with her and then vanishes, Margaret is determined to find out the family secret and finds the answer in a trip to Skye.
This book is sheer delight from start to finish and the ending had me reaching for my tissues. A book written in this style may seem easier than the standard narrative but I think it takes great skill and talent to make the reader want to carry on - you have to like and care for the character much more quickly than otherwise. Love stories set in the theatre of war always resonate more with poignancy and sadness and fear that something sad and dreadful is not far away and Letters from Skye keeps you turning the pages hoping for a happy ending.
And is there one? I am not going to tell you. Please buy the book, read it and find out.