I love memoirs which entwine someone’s life with that of a great writer. Rebecca Mead’s book The Road to Middlemarch, Ruth Wilson’s The Jane Austen Remedy, Christopher Rush’s To Travel Hopefully, and Olivia Laing’s To the River are some excellent examples.
I recently really enjoyed reading Island of Dreams by Dan Boothby. As a boy, he read a book by Gavin Maxwell and was instantly intrigued. As a teenager he went camping in Scotland in places described by Maxwell, and in 2005 he got the opportunity to go and live in Maxwell’s former home on the tiny island of Eilean Bàn, now tucked in under the road bridge to the Isle of Skye. In return for some gardening and repair work, he was able to live on the island for about 2 years, watching out for otters, delving deeper into the troubled personality of Gavin Maxwell, getting to know some of the people mentioned in Maxwell’s classic book Ring of Bright Water, and coming to understand himself better in the process.
This is Boothby’s first published book, and I hope he writes more. I loved his descriptions of the changing seasons on the island, his observations about what sort of man Maxwell was, and his comments about his own challenging childhood and adolescence. It’s a beautifully written, evocative book, made especially memorable by the fact that I visited Gavin Maxwell’s house (now a museum) just before finishing the book.
I even had a glimpse of an otter frolicking in the water nearby. Here’s the video evidence, don’t blink!
It is possible to rent a small cottage on the island – you might like to consider a holiday there? It’s a stunning part of the world, a place where you can jump off the treadmill of modern life for a while and rejoice in natural beauty, the cry of birds, and the miracle of nature. Also on the island is a lighthouse designed by R.L. Stevenson’s father and uncle, so literary connections abound.