Hutchinson, £11.99, ISBN 978-0-091-95398-0
Historical Fiction, 2014 (Reissue)
Letters from Skye is an epistolary story, which is to say, the entire story is dished out in the form of letters from one character to another. It’s a love story, but because this is a mainstream story, the romance doesn’t follow the typical structure of the genre even though there’s a happy ending.
It’s the early days of World War 2, and Margaret Dunn is in love with Paul, who is about to fly off to do his thing. Before he does, he asks her to marry him. Her mother Elspeth cautions her that people tend to do impulsive things in the heat of the moment, especially when they believe that the world may end the next day, but Margaret shrugs off her mother’s concern.
It is when the war catches up with Edinburgh and Elspeth disappears the next day, that Margaret begins to look into her mother’s past, and discovers that, once upon a time, her mother had a wild and passionate affair with an American soldier, David Graham.
Elspeth was living on the island of Skye then, and she published a few books of poetry. One of them fell into David’s hands, and he liked it so much that he wrote her a fan mail. He was a college student who whose true passion was in literature, much to his father’s dismay, while she was a married woman who had never left the island before.
It was soon apparent that he was in love with her. Elspeth really shouldn’t, but she had been drifting apart from her husband for so long. When David enlisted to fight in World War 1, things began to heat up, not always in a good way.
Letters of Skye should appeal to me as I usually have a fondness for epistolary stories, but this one doesn’t truly engage me. Elspeth and David have a cute correspondence going on for the first third or so of this book, but I never get this feeling that these two are that into each other. They seem more like friends than lovers. If they do fall in love, I feel it is more of a case of greener pastures looking so beautiful from their side of the fence. She embodies his love for words and such, while he’s from the outside world, an “adventure”, so to speak, for someone who doesn’t dare to leave her hometown all this while.
Still, things aren’t so bad… until they consummate their relationship and the whole story immediately transforms from a charming tale of muted – very muted – sexual tension into a soap opera featuring people back from the dead at the most inconvenient moments, pregnancies, over the top family drama, and people behaving in ridiculously overwrought manner. What cheapens the “true love” thing here is that David in the end takes it upon himself to play the martyr, without informing Elspeth. This results in a separation which sees Elspeth pining away for so long, not even certain whether David is alive. I’m sure such “loyal woman waiting for decades over some idiot” drama will thrill fans of stories by Nicholas Sparks and the like, but I always feel such loyalty is only heartbreaking to follow if it came from a dog.
At the end of the day, Letters from Skye is an eye-rolling tale of overwrought “I’ll be a martyr for love – FOREVER!” drama packaged to resemble some kind of high-faluting literary offering. At least I didn’t buy this one when it first came out in hardcover.