Amy Liptrot – The Outrun (4 stars)

Orkney author delivers an outstanding debut that blends memoir with nature writing

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The Outrun – Amy Liptrot

Jobless and not long out of rehab, Amy Liptrot found herself back at her family home on Orkney after spending much of her 20s in London. The Outrun tells the story of her recovery from alcoholism, and her relationship with her city and island homes. Without descending into self-pity or exhibitionism, Liptrot writes frankly about her addiction and the highs and lows of the hedonistic East London lifestyle. Fond memories of tipsy afternoons spent idling with friends in London Fields are juxtaposed with bleaker recollections of late night solo booze runs and disintegrating relationships.

In her time on Orkney, Liptrot comes to understand her addiction, finding new thrills in sea swimming and the dancing lights of the aurora borealis. While Liptrot paints a vivid picture of island life, she wisely eschews the language of wilderness and retreat. Her crisp, often beautiful prose is refreshingly free of the Romantic rapture and Boy's Own derring-do that characterises some nature writing. Orkney is presented as a living, working island rather than an idyllic retreat. Technology plays an important part in Liptrot's appreciation of the island, and she writes of spending evenings online, researching local history and natural phenomena.

Her Orkney experiences – tending the lambs on the stretch of coastland known as the Outrun, spending a summer monitoring corncrakes for the RSPB, tracing the journey of the flotsam and jetsam that washes up on the shore – fill a gap in her life and aid her recovery, but she remains attracted to the city. Indeed, some of Liptrot's finest landscape writing is on London, her islander's perspective giving her a particular sense of urban space. Insightful and wonderfully evocative, The Outrun is an outstanding debut, deftly blending memoir and nature writing.

Out now, published by Canongate.

Amy Liptrot: The Outrun

Amy Liptrot discusses her memoir Outrun. Liptrot spend her childhood on the family farm in Orkney, her twenties living a hedonistic life in London and, at the age of thirty, was drawn back to the island. It is a story about living on the edge, the pull between island and city, and the power of the nature to restore renew…

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