Book Review: The Outrun by Amy Liptrot

A wonderful cover.

As soon as I heard about The Outrun by Amy Liptrot I knew I had to read it.  Liptrot is around my age.  Like me she was brought up in rural isolated Scotland.  Liptrot on Orkney, me on the Black Isle. Liptrot always felt like an outsider, English in the Highlands and Islands when the term was used like an abusive word.  I never felt I fitted well with my peers on the Black Isle, and I to had “English” thrown at me as an insult – despite the fact I am born and bred Scottish.  Like Liptrot I escaped south, and like her I returned to Scotland.  I also felt that the story of her descent into alcoholism and recovery to sobriety may have some emotional match with the issues dealt with in my pamphlet of poetry.  Oh, yes.  We’re both writers too.

The tone of The Outrun is thoughtful, and reflective. Liptrot spends her time on the Orkeny islands exploring all they have to offer, sea swimming, snorkling, attending festivals, walking the coast, building dry stone dykes, visiting other islands, learning about geography, gazing at stars, whipped by wind and searching for wildlife.  Liptrot not only returns to Orkney but decides to live on one of it’s furthest islands, Papay.  A self imposed exile on which she not only becomes deeply intimate with the landscape around her, but also with herself.

Throughout the book Liptrot returns to the theme of The Outrun, a coastal field the furthest away from the buildings of the farm she grew up on.  It represents being on the edge, being an outsider.  Despite her references to feelings of otherness in many ways her story could not be more Scottish. The bright lights and temptations of Edinburgh, Glasgow and London have pulled the young people out of the north for generations.  Alcoholism is the mental health issue of choice.  What really makes The Outrun stand out as a work not just of Scotland, but one fundamentally of the Highlands and Islands, is where Liptrot finds her redemption.  All Highlanders know, and much Highland literature tells us, that there is only one place where we can find salvation.  The land.  In that way Liptrot is at root very much, one of us.

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