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Book review: the Outrun by Amy Liptrot January 2016

The Outrun is a book about recovery.  It charts Amy’s journey from the rock bottom of self destructive alcoholism and shows there is a way, if tortuous and difficult, to gradually, and slowly heal.  Why review this book?  Why now?

I think this is an important book.  I don't think it is always great literature, though many reviewers would agree with me, but the issues she tackles, and the honesty and transparency of her recovery process are relevant, to me, and judging from the highlighting in the kindle version, many other people.

Amy describes her childhood in Orkney, growing up on a farm close to Scara Brae, with parents who combined hope for a new life with mental illness and evangelic Christianity. From her teenage years she strives for excitement and escape, drinking increasingly heavily.  This pattern continues when she moves to London, where she finds herself in a bubble of drinking, drugs, successive failed jobs, and endless moves, frustrated flat mates, and eventually ending up in a tiny lonely bedsit. After many dangerous and humiliating experiences she decides to enter rehab, a three-month detoxification process.

Newly sober, she returns home to Orkney, and gets a job with the RSPB, tracking corncrakes.  Through this link she is able to spend a winter on the tiny island of Papa Westray (“Papay”), living in a pink cottage, baking bread, walking, and immersing herself in the Island culture, environment and wildlife, connected to the wider world through a variable internet cable.

She becomes fascinated by the world around her, by the stars, by the ships that pass, the wildlife and the birds that nest around Papay’s rocky shores, and how the islands small community survives and thrives.  The chapters become increasingly circular as she weaves together her experiences in Orkney, in London, in rehab, and in Papa Westray, searching for meaning, striving to make sense of why all this happened, and drawing in the healing power of the island and nature.  For me this book is very much about someone trying to find themselves, moving from a gaping, painful hole, to a sense of who they are, and who they are in the world.

I resonate with much of this book.  I have lived in or visited all the places in the book, including Papa Westray, which is a very special island.  I have not been an alcoholic, but I have been in love with one, attended AA meetings and addressed my own needs through Al Anon.  I have experienced that sense of searching, a need for continual movement, which runs through the book. 

One reader described the books’ style as “relentless”.  We are treated to her thoughts, and more thoughts, moving between topics and time, linked by sometimes over-worked metaphors. There is no dialogue and other characters are often sketchy, possibly to protect them.  This is a book about her process, her thinking, and her sense making.  It may not be yours.  Throughout the book there are moments that will stay in your mind, where she captures the utter degradation of her addiction, or the absolute wonder and beauty of the night sky, the sea, or cliffs that surround her. Or you may enjoy the highly informative tangents that make up much of the second part of the book. 

I started by saying this is an important book, and I believe it is because it contains hope. It shows recovery is possible, and she articulates brilliantly how opening herself to the natural world, observing, becoming curious, attuning to tides and seasons helps this process, and helps her to know who she is.  The book  certainly has its flaws, but I would recommend it.

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Reader Comments (2)

Thanks for this post!! it was great and informative!!

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