Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book at ALA Midwinter 2013. All quotes are based on an uncorrected text.
Friday, 19 July 1940
The morning after the bomb fell, I went back to the house, intending to patch things up. All night, I couldn’t sleep a wink, thinking about how we argued and how she pushed me away after those letters came tumbling out of the wall. My stomach was in knots.
But when I got up to the flat, it was empty. The wainscoting still gaped open, but every last letter was gone. And both of my suitcases.
My mother, who has never been away from the house for longer than a few hours, has packed up and left. And I have no idea where she’s gone.”
Margaret was raised in Edinburgh by a single mother who never talked about her past, or Margaret’s father. They have never visited her mother’s childhood home on the Isle of Skye, even though they still have family there. When World War II breaks out, Margaret begins an epistolary love affair with her childhood friend Paul, who has gone to war. When her mother finds out, she begs Margaret not to fall in love, because war makes life so uncertain. But there is more to it than that; when a bomb damages their home, Margaret discovers a cache of love letters in her mother’s room dating from the First World War. This glimpse of the past leaves Margaret hungering to know the truth, but then her mother and all the love letters disappear, leaving Margaret to try to put the story together alone.
Letters from Skye is told as a pair of interwoven epistolary narratives, beginning with letters between Margaret’s mother, Elspeth, and David, an American fan of Elspeth’s poetry in the early years of the Great War, and then continuing with letters between Margaret and Paul in the early 1940s. The challenge of the epistolary format is believably including all the necessary details in the letters. Letters from Skye occasionally feels written more to the reader than between the characters, but overall Jessica Brockmole finds a way to make even the most expositionary discussions believable. Although it was not told in the epistolary format, I was pleasantly reminded of Diana Gabaldon’s Dragonfly in Amber, in which Claire must reveal the truth of her parentage to Brianna. Here, it is Elspeth who is determined to hide the truth, and Margaret who longs to uncover it. Letters From Skye was a lovely exploration of the power of the written word, the consequences of war, and the bonds of family.