05 March 2013

Book Review: Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole

Publisher's marketing says this about Jessica Brockmole's novel, Letters from Skye: A sweeping story told in letters, spanning two continents and two world wars, [this] atmospheric debut novel captures the indelible ways that people fall in love, and celebrates the power of the written word to stir the heart.

I read this book because it was pitched to me as a good companion to a book I really loved -- The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: it's an epistolary novel filled with wartime secrets, crossing the generations, complete with a remote island setting. On the surface, it's an apt comparison.  But where Guernsey is a charming and old-fashioned story, Letters from Skye feels rushed and largely unbelievable. More to the point, the language in the letters, particularly the exchanges up to and during World War I, feel anachronistic in their language. That is, far too modern in their sensibilities and language patterns.  I felt like I was reading a set of contemporary letters, written by contemporary lovers, not something written close to 100 years ago.

Not the worst literary sin in the world, to be sure, but that's not the only one committed here.  I suppose that it's rather the nature of epistolary novels to disobey the "show, don't tell" rule, but there were so many moments of "telling" in this novel that I almost laughed out loud. In order for the reader to know certain segments of the plot, the World War I lovers basically repeat back in letters to each other things they did during their fleeting time together. As someone who once was an avid letter writer, it stretched my credulity to believe that either character would essentially rehash their entire visit like that on paper for the reader's benefit. Additionally, the novel feels fairly two dimensional and predictable and it fails to give a good sense of place, either of Edinburgh or the Isle of Skye, which I think is its greatest crime -- one of the best things about the Guernsey book was the sense of time and location it was able to convey.

Still, I did find the last 50 pages fairly satisfying, and it was undeniably a quick read. If you like your books on the lighter side, if you enjoy romantic and/or historical fiction, and if you're not fussy about anachronistic sensibilities, you just might like this book much better than I did.

NB: This book will be published by Ballantine Books in July 2013 and I read an advance reading copy of it provided by my sales rep.  As the back of the ARC states that the rights for Letters from Skye have already sold in over 20 countries, it may very well be the case that my opinion of this book is in the minority.


  1. I like that this review pretty much says "well there were 50 pages of this book I liked. They were in a row to, so, there's that. Otherwise..."

  2. Reading "they were in a row" just made me snort. Yes, can you imagine if the 50 pages I liked best were just randomly scattered throughout the book?

    I think my Mom will really enjoy this book, actually. Must remember to recommend it to her.


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