The Outrun by Amy Liptrot
Amy Liptrot’s The Outrun is a beautifully written memoir about alcoholism, recovery and life at the extremes. Ten years after leaving Orkney’s remote mainland for life in London, Liptrot returns to the islands where she grew up. Walking on the Outrun – the family farm’s most outlying field, bordered by the sea – she is buffeted by the wind as she reflects on her life in London, her drinking and rehabilitation. Images of Soho’s nightclubs are imposed over Orkney seascapes, as Liptrot navigates the precarious path of sobriety.
Liptrot’s writing is brilliantly evocative. The buzz and hubbub of London and its bright and blurring colours and lights, is set against Orkney, in greens and greys, the turf kept short by the eternal wind. Restless and curious, she walks miles across the islands, exploring their pathways and stories while digitally tracking her progress. She is thrilled by the extremes – outdoor swimming in the bitter North Sea, turning off all the lights to watch the eerie Merry Dancers (Northern Lights), standing on the cliff’s edge to watch the breakers crash.
Liptrot writes about the edges of things, of barriers and thresholds. Dead sheep are disposed of via the cliff’s edge; a new tractor unattended by its owner steadily gathers speed and plummets into the sea; a collie pup disappears over in the fog. Orkney’s mysterious enchanted island Hether Blether appears and disappears, an illusion that’s always beyond Liptrot’s reach.
The author writes openly and with a touching clarity about her alcoholism, but insight is to be found also in her raw and powerful depictions of the natural world around her. Liptrot is a compelling new voice in memoir and nature writing, and The Outrun is an unmissable read.
The Outrun is out now, published by Canongate, RRP £14.99