Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole
Recuperating from an injury, University of Illinois college student David Graham enjoys reading the poetry of Elspeth Dunn, and writes her a fan letter. This begins a correspondence of several years before and during World War I. Elspeth is married to sullen Iain, her brother Finlay’s best friend, and lives on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. Afraid to leave the island, Elspeth leads a somewhat narrow life. She writes poetry, roams around the island, and worries about her husband and brother in World War I, and then about David when he volunteers as an ambulance driver in France. A parallel story is set in Edinburgh and London in 1940, where Elspeth’s daughter Margaret tries to learn about her past after her mother disappears after an air raid, and also worries about her boyfriend Paul, in the war. Told through letters, this double love story reminds me of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Burrows, although it’s not quite as memorable. A quick read, with humor, romance, and drama, recommended for fans of historical fiction or family sagas.
The Flight of Gemma Hardy, by Margot Livesey
The Flight of Gemma Hardy is a new work by famed author Margot Livesey, her first work in 4 years. This is a fascinating fast-paced novel, filled with romantic drama, suspense, and emotional duress. The novel closely resembles the beloved classic Jane Eyre, with only a few marked differences. The narrative begins with a young girl’s flight from her native Iceland to Scotland in the late 1950s, following the death of her widowed father. She is sent to live with her cruel aunt and hostile cousins, where she develops a stiff backbone and makes few friends. She finds refuge in intellect, and is initially delighted to be sent to a boarding school, but is soon sorely disappointed by the stark and unforgiving environment.
As in Jane Eyre, the reader follows Gemma to her late school years, where she looks for work as an au pair, or nanny, to a family on an isolated island in the Orkneys. The author seems to have done much research into the flora and fauna of these remote islands, effortlessly taking the reader into the landscape. She meets her charge’s father, Mr. Sinclair, who’s character remains simultaneously mysterious and inviting to Gemma throughout the novel. Her relationship to Mr. Sinclair helps her truly understand who she is, and yet becomes fraught with peril and distress as choices are made, and secrets discovered.
Unlike many novels who shamelessly use classic novels to ‘modernize’ them into poor prose, The Flight of Gemma Hardy does not seem to fall into that category. Livesey has an absolute reverence for Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, and her modernized interpretations are soft representations of the former novel, nothing done to jar the reader who loves the classic.
Even if one has never read Jane Eyre, this will be an enjoyable and thought-provoking read. Library Journal calls it “[An] original slant on a classic story…. Within the classic framework, Livesey molds a thoroughly modern character who learns to expect the best of herself and to forgive the missteps of others. The author has a gift for creating atmosphere.”