In March 1912, a college student at the University of Illinois takes time away from his usual pursuits—painting the dean’s horse blue, climbing dorm walls with a sack of squirrels, reading Huckleberry Finn—to write a letter to a Scottish poet living on the remote Isle of Skye. As the young man, David Graham, notes in his first paragraph, poetry is not his usual literary fare, but something in this book has touched his soul. A few weeks later, his poet, Elspeth Dunn, responds, initiating a conversation that will flourish as friendship and eventually as romance, with consequences that reach across the first world war and into the next.
To sustain a novel entirely through the exchange of letters poses a challenge to any writer, although the epistolary novel itself has a long tradition: the earliest novels adopted this form. Here David and Elspeth emerge as two distinct personalities, drawn to each other across the cultural divide symbolized by the Atlantic Ocean and the greater divide that propels David to war in France even as Elspeth clings to her island. But it takes the determination of a second generation at war to bring Elspeth and David’s story to its natural conclusion.
In this sparkling debut novel, Jessica Brockmole explores the many layers of connection that bind lovers and family members across the years and through adversity. With its exquisite descriptions of place and its ability to evoke the myth-drenched wildness of the Hebrides, Letters from Skye (Ballantine Books, 2013) will pull you into the lives of David, Elspeth, and their families. It’s a journey you will not regret taking.