Author(s): Douglas Botting
Gavin Maxwell was a romantic, self-destructive adventurer, brave and handsome, with a deep sympathy for the underdog, a wonderfully curious mind and a dogged commitment to discovering the truth. It was said of him that he was loved by women, had sex with men but his emotional life was ruled by animals. His father died in the trenches in the year of his birth, so he and his brothers enjoyed a wonderfully carefree childhood, living in passionate proximity to their mother, the widowed daughter of the Duke of Northumberland, in an isolated house on the south-west coast of Scotland. He became one of the most brilliant and quixotic of British travel-writers, who wrote about Iraq (where he travelled with Wilfrid Thesiger in 1956 and acquired his first otter), Sicily (where he befriended both Communist peasants and Mafia hitmen) and Morocco (where he spent six years chronicling the rise and fall of a Berber dynasty). But he would become even more famous for his trilogy of books set in the north-west coast of Scotland, which was a true fulfilment of his affinity with nature and a love of wild things, most especially otters.
Despite the success of Ring of Bright Water, The Rocks Remain and Raven Seek thy Brother, the vast bulk of his life remained a closely guarded secret. He was by turns a shark-hunter, a wartime secret agent, portrait-painter, racing car-driver, naturalist, poet and a social renegade. Often poised on the edge of bankruptcy he could also be insanely profligate and generous.
Douglas Botting was a trusted friend of Gavin Maxwell in the last 12 years of his life and a fellow explorer-traveller-writer, so was uniquely equipped to understand both the creative and destructive demons that drove him. He has created an empathetic study of a man, which reads like the most bizarre and eccentric adventure story, for that is what it is.