Island of Dreams
Picador £14.99 hardback
DAN Boothby’s memoir is the culmination of an almost lifelong fascination with the author Gavin Maxwell.
Ever since he picked up a copy of Maxwell’s book Raven Seek Thy Brother, Boothby felt drawn to Maxwell, a difficult and unworldly member of an aristocratic family who found himself a home in the western Highlands with his beloved otters and a succession of teenage boy assistants.
After years of pilgrimage to Glenelg and Kyleakin, Boothby takes a step closer to his hero by becoming warden of Kyleakin lighthouse island (Eilean Bàn), Maxwell’s final home and now part of the supporting structure of the Skye Bridge.
Boothby retells much of Maxwell’s life and adventures, but this is not Maxwell’s story, it is Boothby’s.
A story about getting too close to one’s hero, about finally discovering what Maxwell saw in otters, and how to fit in as an outsider in Highland society.
In regard to the last topic, Boothby draws up a handy hierarchy of the various strata of the Highland community from Natives, with local roots going back generations, to Second Home Owners, who create resentment among the Natives and Locals by buying up valuable housing stock the permanent population cannot afford.
Boothby does not stay long enough to get beyond the third tier of his own classification, Incomer, but stays long enough despite the scepticism of locals about his ability to last a Highland winter to give us this book.
Never quite fitting in, he describes visits to the pub "alone but in company", the introspection is balanced by a dry wit and writing fine enough to bear comparison with his mentor, Maxwell.