Article published on March 17, 2016.
The day Amy was born on the island of Orkney her father was sectioned and taken to an institute in Aberdeen. Not the most illustrious of starts. Apart from her father’s mental heath she had an idyllic childhood, she spent hours on the Outrun, a huge field that went right to the edge of the cliffs. Her mother and father were incomers to the island, and this field was part of the farm that they owned. There is precious little for teenagers to do on these remote Scottish islands and when they got together for parties, she started drinking, just wine and beer at first, but what she most wanted was to go to the big cities; London was calling.
London was exciting, full of life and new friends, but whilst there her alcohol problem spiralled out of control. Her daily pursuit of drinking herself into stupor lost her friends, jobs and partners, gained her a driving conviction until it reached the point where she could carry on no more. Admitted to Alcoholics Anonymous she stops drinking on one of the equinoxes, those pivot points of the seasons. Initial results are a success, so after three months she starts to apply for jobs again, but nothing seems to turn up. So reluctantly she makes the decision to return to Orkney.
A decade has passed since she lived there, and now she is back at the age of 30. She now has to unpick and untangle the mess that she made of her life, provided she can stay sober. As she settles back in to island life, she has bleak and tough days, but there are times when the sun shines and the wind blows and she gains a little more clarity every time. She applies for jobs in London again, but when a job comes up on Orkney working for the RSPCA counting corncrakes, she gets it. Liptrot ends up tracking puffins and arctic terns amongst other creatures, and this exposure to nature opens wide her eyes for the possibilities that nature offers for her healing. An early interest in astronomy is rekindled too; this is one of the best places to see the stars with almost zero light pollution and there are the occasional glimpses of the Northern Lights. She joins a club that swims whenever possible in the breath-takingly cold sea, a much healthier way of getting the adrenaline rush she used to get from the bottle.
It is a heart-rending book in lots of ways. She has similar traits to her father who has suffered from mental health issues all through his life, her parents had split, too, further adding to the stresses and strains of her life, and then she reaches rock bottom. Her return to Orkney and the time spent on the tiny island of Papay gives her an opportunity to find an alternative direction. The landscape, the harsh weather and the wildlife bringing a new purpose to her life. It is not always the easiest book to read, but Liptrot’s writing is beautiful and lyrical, she conveys just what she observes without it feeling overbearing or too wordy. She is a talent to watch out for in the future.
The Outrun by Amy Liptrot
Canongate 9781782115472 hbk Jan 2016
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