Book review: The Outrun by Amy Liptrot

Few alcoholics and addicts have anything like as much recovery capital to revert to as Amy has in Orkney. Being fortunate does not prevent addiction.

THE OUTRUN by Amy Liptrot

Published by Canongate.

ISBN: 9781782115489, £14.99

Review by Mark Reid.

The dingy confinements of Amy Liptrot’s addiction contrast utterly with the irenic spaces of her recovery. The Outrun refers to the furthest-flung coastline of the family sheep farm on Orkney, where she grew up and where she returns. Once oblivious to its beauty, Amy, like most teenagers, wherever they are, wanted out – to London – only to find no amount of big city bright lights can match the natural luminosity of the islands. Few alcoholics and addicts have anything like as much recovery capital to revert to, as Amy does, 800 miles north. Being fortunate does not prevent addiction.

Of course, when Amy first lived in ‘fantasy’ London she loved being the ‘wild girl’ spending ‘enchanted summer days in the park with beautiful people’ and then ‘Soho nightclubs I’d read about in magazines’. But it’s unsustainable. Soon Amy is making excuses to leave friends in bars ‘to drink faster, alone’. Jobs are lost, as are places to live. Looking for another new flat, ‘I mumbled my story, they chose someone else’. So Amy finds a small room in a Victorian terrace in Clapton. ‘I saw the sash window next to the bed, I knew I’d be able to drink and smoke freely there. I moved in’.

Amy’s recovery is indebted to Alcoholics Anonymous. She accepts there can never be a first drink. She thrives in the trust and bond of being ‘in church halls with misfits drinking tea from chipped mugs, listening to tales of people shitting the bed, laughing our heads off’. Amy strives to embrace the 12-step programme: ‘I need to do more than just not drink’.

Amy does a lot more than just not drink. When The Outrun came out in paperback, the publisher quite rightly pitched it as ‘a nature memoir’, a very fashionable genre. Amy recaptures, and this time truly cherishes, ‘childhood memories of chasing oystercatcher chicks, feeling their soft, hotly beating bodies in our hands, before letting them go’. It’s an idyllic setting for recovery. Once so impatient to leave, Amy Liptrot ‘s coming home radiates how ‘recovery is making use of something once thought worthless’.

Mark Reid is peer worker at Path To Recovery (P2R), Bedfordshire