The Outrun by Amy Liptrot
Publication date: 04 August 2016
Rating: 5 out of 5 corncrakes
I’m usually not someone who likes memoirs. I often find they they’re incredibly indulgent and not particularly fun to read. That being said, I’m not sure what drew me to The Outrun. It might have been its gorgeous cover or its setting, but I picked it up for some reason and I’m so glad I did.
When Amy Liptrot returns to Orkney after more than a decade away, she is drawn back to the Outrun on the sheep farm where she grew up. Approaching the land that was once home, memories of her childhood merge with the recent events that have set her on this journey.
Amy was shaped by the cycle of the seasons, birth and death on the farm, and her father’s mental illness, which were as much a part of her childhood as the wild, carefree existence on Orkney. But as she grew up, she longed to leave this remote life. She moved to London and found herself in a hedonistic cycle. Unable to control her drinking, alcohol gradually took over. Now thirty, she finds herself washed up back home on Orkney, standing unstable at the cliff edge, trying to come to terms with what happened to her in London.
Spending early mornings swimming in the bracingly cold sea, the days tracking Orkney’s wildlife – puffins nesting on sea stacks, arctic terns swooping close enough to feel their wings – and nights searching the sky for the Merry Dancers, Amy slowly makes the journey towards recovery from addiction.
The Outrun is a beautiful, inspiring book about living on the edge, about the pull between island and city, and about the ability of the sea, the land, the wind and the moon to restore life and renew hope.*
I ended up really, really loving this book. I didn’t find it self-indulgent like so many other recovery memoirs. You don’t feel sunk in the world of an alcoholic who fails and fails again to beat their addiction. Liptrot begrudgingly returns home after feeling like she has failed in London, only to find that she truly belongs in her childhood home in Orkney. There is no wallowing, there is no self pity. She does not beat herself up over the fact that the glamorous London life she had dreamed of didn’t pan out. She takes a whole lot of responsibility for her own actions. Liptrot is very up front about the fact that she had/has a problem, gives you a picture of her life as an alcoholic and the consequences of her drinking, but then she really digs into her recovery and her experiences of fighting against addiction. For me, it was the fact that this book is more about the recovery than the drinking that just worked.
After her return, she does some incredible things with her life. She works with bird conservationists, helps on her father’s farm, swims in the sea, and lives on her own on one of Orkney’s most remote islands. All memoirs by definition will be a little self-indulgent, but for me Liptrot really pulls away from herself and her problems. Her lovely writing style really brings the Scottish coast to life. It may be my personal experience and bias here – I lived in Scotland for a year and absolutely loved it – but the role the islands play in her recovery really spoke to me. Despite inner turmoil, she manages to really convey the peace that the island setting brought her.
I’d highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Scotland as a country, nature and natural history, or to read a truly inspiring book about a woman’s recovery. The Outrun is a great memoir for people who, well, hate memoirs.
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*copy courtesy of Goodreads