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The Outrun
Amy Liptrot
Canongate

I have escaped. I am beyond the internet.

Such a thing would be like heaven to me and so I was immediately drawn to Amy Liptrot’s memoir of her life in the Orkneys and her struggle to live a life of sobriety after years of alcohol abuse.

Although I am a towny, I have always hankered for a spell on a remote island, especially somewhere bleak and windswept like the Orkney Islands: Papa Westray, Hoy, Graemsay… with most of the islands either being uninhabited, or having a population of less than 500 people, they sound absolutely wonderful.

Amy’s memoir flits between her life of clubbing and boozing in London, her upbringing on an Orkney farm, and her subsequent return to the islands after a spell in rehab.  She interweaves her story with history and folklore, descriptions of the bird life, flora and fauna and a taste of island life in the 21st century; combining this with a great deal of self-examination.

I found some of her allusions and comparisons between her different lifestyles a little clumsy at times (she refers to swapping the bright lights of London, for the glittering celestial bodies of the Orkney skies, for example) but overall it is very well written and I found it compelling.

Having read some negative reviews on Goodreads, I find their objections to her self-absorption somewhat befuddling.  She is a young woman trying to find a new way of living, which does not involve drugs and alcohol, and I think that she can be forgiven a little navel gazing.

Addicts are often blamed for their condition, and although Liptrot never seeks sympathy, I think her memoir could help people to be more understanding and overcome their prejudices.

Much of the drunken behaviour she describes is fairly commonplace; go to Cardiff, Manchester, London on any Friday night and you’ll see scores of people completely off their faces. What shifts inside a person’s brain, so that Friday night binge drinking becomes something more serious, is hard to explain, but it’s certainly not unusual.  I had a friend who was an addict and we seemed to bump into friends from his AA meetings every few yards when walking round his hometown.

I would recommend The Outrun.  It isn’t as harrowing or po-faced as it sounds, as Amy is quite sharp, with a good sense of humour – after telling us that Papay has about 90 inhabitants, she goes on to say that the Holm of Papay is “where to go when life on Papay gets too hectic.”

I found her renewed connection with her home and its natural beauty quite moving and I’m happy for her, that in sharing this through her writing, she has found a positive way of connecting with the world again.

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