Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Island of Dreams by Dan Boothby

Isn't this a lovely cover...

I bought Island of Dreams almost the moment I spotted it - the cover caught my eye and I'd clicked "Buy" without even looking further. And before long people are going to be sick of me recommending it (grin). I stayed up much, much too late the night I read it.

At one point Dan tells someone he's just met, "You've got my job." Well, what I'd like to say to him is, "You wrote my book." Because, like him, I grew up reading Gavin Maxwell's books, not just Ring of Bright Water but the others as well, and my favourite is The Rocks Remain. And I read obsessively about his life for a long time and felt connected to him in ways I hadn't to other authors. I even have a slight edge on Boothby, being old enough to have actually met Gavin Maxwell (albeit fleetingly, and anyway he didn't notice girls) and, while I haven't been to Skye, or to Sandaig, I did spend time on the west coast of Scotland as a child, and loved it there. One day I'll go back...

I hope Dan will forgive me calling him by his first name, but his writing style is so immediate, so friendly, that I find it hard to think of him otherwise. He had a somewhat rackety childhood, and a convoluted extended family (I identify there, too), and describes himself on his website as having been "chronically peripatetic" before he moved to Scotland to live in Maxwell's last home, the lighthouse keeper's cottage on Eilean Ban (the "White Island" of John Lister-Kaye's biography of Maxwell). There he cared for the tiny island, conducted tours, and learned to know all its moods and foibles.

San's own story is interspersed with Maxwell's, as he tries to understand the author, and his enduring interest to readers and tourists. There's no hero worship, Dan may be an admirer, but he's awake to Maxwell's many faults, especially over finances, and to the damage he wrought on some of the people closest to him. Despite this, Maxwell's remarkable charisma comes through on every page. Some of his attitude to life appears to have infected Dan during his solitary sojourn too - while not on the scale of Maxwell's sometimes hair-raising exploits - even in my teens I was horrified by the sheer fecklessness of Harpoon at a Venture - I did feel that a little more heed could have been paid to the treachery of the waters around the island.

Eilean Ban's status has changed since Maxwell's day - no longer an island since a road bridge was built across to Skye, it's easily reached by all and sundry. You can even stay in the lighthouse keeper's cottages in the shadow of the bridge, with most mod cons, or visit it on a guided tour through the Brightwater Centre.

This is an engaging book if you're interested in Scotland, or the solitary life, or otters, or Gavin Maxwell. Dan Boothby has a delightfully easy style, and the book is very nicely presented, perfect present material. It was one of my clear favourites last year.


  1. That caught my eye, too. Glad to hear it's so good!

  2. Nice to see you back on your blog. I like the cover - it's very eye catching and a great title. It looks a book I would enjoy too - glad you liked it. I've been to Skye a couple of times, the first before the bridge was built. It's a beautiful place.

    1. The cover really does tell you about the book, I feel. I'm sure you'd enjoy it.

  3. Replies
    1. You can't go far wrong with an otter - for me, at least!

  4. HI HI HI HI HI. Hi! It's you! How the hell are you?