The Way Home, Boyle’s memoir of his first year off-grid, is fascinating. There’s something irresistible about an account of someone building their own house from scratch and then surviving mostly on road kill, fishing and vegetables grown with the aid of their own “humanure”. When his writing is at its best it is a poetic meditation on the almost-mystical benefits of falling in sync with nature, of submitting to the light and the seasons rather than to the clock, of noticing the wildlife all around us and respecting our place within it. But Boyle’s sanctimony soon becomes wearing and eventually, infuriating.
Out in the Irish sticks, miles from the nearest shop and pub, dependent on his legs and his bike to get anywhere, Boyle pared down his life to essentials: filling the woodshed, sowing and harvesting vegetables, making a compost heap, gathering leaves to brew tea. He communicates beautifully the simple pleasures of small achievements – building a path to the woodshed, digging a pond, constructing a hot tub... What I so like about Boyle’s way of grappling with these issues is the absence of self-righteousness. He doesn’t lecture us about our wicked ways or hold himself up as an example of virtue. In each moral quandary he simply does what seems right to him... Boyle’s life is certainly not for me – I would never renounce my hot bath, my television, my daily paper, my occasional grilled kipper and the rest. I regard my life as enriched by these pleasures, just as his is enriched by hearing the croak of the frogs in his pond or harvesting bulbs of garlic. But he is right about very many things – the joys of a well-filled woodshed, of picking blackberries instead of buying them and of eating your own produce, and above all the fulfilment provided by connecting with the natural world around us and the duty of care it breeds. These are things we can all reach for. Boyle gives me hope, and I’m grateful to him.
This genuine, warm-hearted analysis of the dysfunctions of our current world offers a surprisingly alluring alternative to our current malaise – if only we dared adopt it. Tomás Ó Criomhthain ends his Blasket Island memoir with the line “Ní bheidh ár leithéidí arís ann” (the likes of us will never be again). Boyle’s book suggest that B’fhéidir go mbeidh (Maybe there will).