Little earthquakes: In The Outrun, you want to go wherever Amy Liptrot takes you
Redemption-through-nature is now a literary subgenre, and The Outrun will no doubt sit alongside Richard Mabey’s Nature Cure and Helen Macdonald’s H Is for Hawk.
In her inventive essay “Diving Into Berghain”, published online last year, Amy Liptrot wrote about a night out at the notorious techno club in Berlin. Only it was actually a piece about wild sea swimming and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and the effect of loud bass (and flotation tanks) on the human body. In her debut book, The Outrun, Liptrot weaves similar webs, seamlessly linking memoir with topography, nature and a historical study of Orkney that stretches beyond the rocky archipelago, out across the oceans of time and into the cosmos.
Her story of escaping a remote sheep-farming upbringing in a locale called “the Outrun” for a life of thrills and hedonism in a sensory-overloaded, post-millennial London, followed by the almost inevitable psychic crash, subsequent spell in rehab and then slow recovery, back in the very landscape that she left, may seem familiar to anyone who has read more than one addiction memoir. Yet Liptrot refuses to wallow in self-pity, or dwell on the brutal late-night assault she survives in London (her attacker is sentenced to six years, for this and another attempted rape), and finds wonder instead in the drama of her surroundings, as if seeing them for the first time.
Here it is the poetry of the elements and observed ancient rituals that provides succour, rather than the twelve-step programme. Lambing, wall-building, swimming out to shipwrecks and watching equinox sunrises are designed both to punish and to provide pleasure, and ultimately they restore balance and aid recovery. These tough exercises ensure that landscape and body become interchangeable in Liptrot’s fecund prose. High on nothing but fresh air, she writes: “My body is a continent. Forces are at work in the night. A bruxist, I grind my teeth in my sleep, like tectonic plates . . . lightning strikes every time I sneeze, and when I orgasm, there’s an earthquake.”
Read the full review here.