Island of Dreams: A Personal History of a Remarkable Place by Dan Boothby - review by Ariane Bankes

Ariane Bankes

Otter Spotter

Island of Dreams: A Personal History of a Remarkable Place


Picador 241pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

This is the story of an obsession. Dan Boothby enjoyed (or endured) a fatherless, gypsy childhood, and subsequently drifted for years before fetching up at the Kyleakin Lighthouse, off the coast of Skye, last home of Gavin Maxwell. It was Maxwell – that inspired but tortured writer – who was the lodestar of Boothby’s wanderings, the focus of his thoughts and dreams. For a boy brought up on the fringes of society, it is not hard to see why: Maxwell was the quintessential outsider, almost feral in his likes and dislikes and his love of the wild, notwithstanding his privileged background. The sanctuary he created at Camusfeàrna (in reality Sandaig), where he would hole up with his beloved otters and a series of young boys, has exerted a magnetic fascination for generations of would-be naturalists and fugitives from urban life.

It was the discovery of Maxwell’s Raven Seek Thy Brother that set the teenage Boothby on his fitful course. The final volume of the trilogy begun with Ring of Bright Water, it had at its dark centre a curse laid upon Maxwell by the poet Kathleen Raine, disappointed in her love for the writer. It was to this curse that he ascribed the grave misfortunes that subsequently befell him. Raven Seek Thy Brother was an elegy for a lost idyll, one

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