The Outrun by Amy Liptrot

A review of the non-fiction literary memoir The Outrun by Amy Liptrot.

The Outrun details Liptrot’s return to Orkney after a decade of heavy-duty hedonism in London, where she finds in the island’s extreme weather and wildlife an unexpected outlet for recovery. The book was lauded by critics, and I was interested to know what members of the Margate Book Club would make of it.

We were all agreed that Liptrot’s descriptions of nature and the wildlife in Orkney were really the stars of the show; the pictures she painted were beautifully vivid, conveying the harshness of the extreme weather systems on the island’s inhabitants. However, there were times where the descriptions were accompanied by facts which read more like the results of Google searches than the author’s own experience.

One of the key themes of the book we discussed at the Book Club was religion, and the parallels Liptrot draws between her mother’s ‘born again’ Christianity, her father’s mental illness, and Liptrot’s own struggle with addiction and subsequent recovery using the 12 Steps programme. There is no direct dialogue in the book—all conversations are remembered through Liptrot’s voice—and yet the chapter ‘Triduana’ which discusses religion and spirituality feels personal and authentic.

As Liptrot muses how religion, therapy and the 12 Steps are all ways “of thinking in order to recover” from something, she talks about how sea-swimming becomes a key part of her recovery; “The cold water shocks out any mental stress—my body suddenly has something more immediate to deal with.” I particularly enjoyed the chapter on sea swimming, and felt that the moments where Liptrot describes her closeness to nature either in the water, or watching the Northern Lights (or ‘Merry Dancers’) were moments of pure joy in the book. She also enjoys these moments with other people—much of the book focuses on her in isolation, and the feeling of relief is palpable when she describes the antics of the ‘Orkney Polar Bears’, her swimming comrades.

Liptrot’s own likeability was a discussion point at the Book Club, with some members finding her cold and difficult to empathise with. Liptrot’s decade of hardcore partying can seem far from your typical blockbuster nightmare of addiction and abuse often portrayed in TV series and films, but nonetheless I found it be very true to what I suspect many young women of my generation experience; a downward spiral of partying, pushing one’s limits, and walking a fine line between excess and balance. Yes, Liptrot’s story may not be the most dramatic (and she even acknowledges this in a chapter about the treatment programme in rehab), but for that I found it relatable and honest.

With sonic booms, sounds of a haunted chicken, and tales of gouged-out eyes on a thorn, this book is rich, vivid, and ultimately hopeful. You can’t help but cheer on Liptrot as she ends with “I’m ready to be brave.”

Zoe has recently rediscovered her love of reading.

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