March 29th, 2020 by Jane Turner
I thought I’d also do some book reviews on my Blog. Seeing as reading is a passion, it only makes sense. One thing about self isolating for Covid-19, it allows more time for reading.
So, here we go…
My most recent read and the subject of this review, was Island of Dreams by Dan Boothby. Finishing it gives me the chance to write a review of a book that covers two things I love – memoirs and Scotland. And I have a specific fondness for memoirs about Scotland, which is what drew me to this book in the first place.
I’m going through a period of romance with Scotland – my second. And, yes, I’m sure it loves me as much as I love it. I lived in Edinburgh from 2000-2004 and I felt a special affinity for it. I still consider it my second home.
Then there’s the added mystique about living on a small island. The sense of community, the relationships with the people and landscape, feeling the rhythm of the seasons. The ‘getting back to nature’ aspect, which you don’t have to be self-sufficient to achieve. And, yes, I have a dream of moving to a Scottish island. You never know when your world will change, right? If Covid-19 has taught us anything, it’s that.
Dan Boothby is a charming writer. He has a subtle wit combined with an almost stoic view of the world around him. A ‘this is how it is’ perspective. That said, this book is two separate things and I had trouble connecting with one of them – which did reduce my enjoyment of the book.
You see, Boothby’s personal romance with Scotland began in his youth with a reading of Gavin Maxwell’s book, Raven Seek Thy Brother, the last in the Ring of Bright Water trilogy. Perhaps, I should say, Boothby’s romance with Scotland AND Gavin Maxwell began when he read Raven Seek Thy Brother – as this book is more an ode to Maxwell than Scotland. The author’s love of Scotland’s wildness comes through in the novel, his descriptions of the landscapes, the flora and fauna, do emit a clear sense of awe. However, his love of Maxwell the man and enchantment with Maxwell’s life and the trilogy comes through far more strongly. Dan Boothby takes us on a tour of Maxwell himself, alongside his tour of the places and characters in the famous trilogy.
And, I must admit I’ve not read the Ring of Bright Water trilogy. So the sections on Maxwell don’t do much for me. And there’s a LOT of them.
This book is much more a love affair with Maxwell than a memoir on Boothby’s life as Warden of Kyleakin Lighthouse Island (as he calls it, because that’s what Maxwell called it – the island’s actual name is Eilean Bán). Not having read Maxwell’s books mean I’m pretty much immune to the almost romantic view of Maxwell’s life that the author goes to great lengths to describe. Boothby doesn’t justify anything on Maxwell’s behalf, it’s an exploratory adventure through Maxwell’s life, but it still left me a little cold – I found myself not liking the man, definitely not trusting him. I would have much preferred the book to be a day to day record of the author’s time living on Eilean Bán. That’s the romance I have with Scotland – not with any particular person, but with the place itself.
Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy the book, and I raced through it in a day – but I found myself wanting to skip over the Maxwell’s biography parts and get back to life on the island.
As to the parts about the island, Boothby’s descriptions are no holes barred, he doesn’t gloss over anything. Though it’s clear he’s in love with the place, its wildlife and its characters, he tempers that with a stubbornly truthful account of their foibles and flaws. These parts, I loved – I want to know what life was like there for Boothby, not what life was like for Maxwell.
To be honest, no.
This happens to me sometimes – knowing too much about someone makes me disinterested in their work. If I read the biography before the work itself, what I know of the author taints the work for me, somehow.
On the whole, yes. Boothby has an agreeable style and the tales of the locale have definite appeal if you’re a fan of Scotland or Maxwell. But the book is more an ode to Maxwell, than to Scotland. Be prepared.