Amy Liptrot (2016) The Outrun.
I like to give Scottish authors a chance. I read an extract by Amy Liptrot in The Observer (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jan/17/amy-liptrot-i-am-a-lone-figure-in-waterproofs-the-outrun-extract) and bought the book because I liked it. Sometimes life is that simple. What I like about it is it’s honesty. When I read Sooz’s diaries online (Harpie in ebooks) I often laugh. Yes, I’m a cruel vindictive person that revels in other folk’s misery, but only if I can imagine that could have happened to me, or did happen to me. A good book resonates with the reader and Liptrot certainly knows how to pull you in.
Liptrot admits that she’s not a great fan of Alcoholics Anonymous, but she is a devotee and that she is powerless over alcohol, and that her life had become unmanageable. We can use the past tense here. On page 248, she tells the reader she has been sober for twenty-three months. And then the reader is told ‘Orkney is trying to keep me’ and I’ll be two-years sober in the spring solstice. Anniversaries are important in AA. Place is the flip side of time, and I’m reminded of a line in Wilfred Owen’s ‘Futility’, ‘At home whispering of fields unsown’.
On Saturday a guy slapped me on the back and said, ‘That’s me been twenty-seven years sober.’ And I said ‘well done, Jim, but you were a pain in the arse when you were drunk and you’re even worse sober.’ (kidding) And today somebody told me he couldn’t handle it and was going for a drink. That’s life on the edge of the void.
Sobriety is the standing stones that mark the book. There is a before, which takes place mainly in London. And there is an afterwords that counts the cost that takes place on an island off an island off an island – Papay, off the island of Westray, off the island off the mainland islands of Orkney—and that is off the greater island of self.
Liptrot marks out the territory well. As you’d expect there are a lot of prepositions that mark out the relations of place. For example, home, ‘On my first day back I shelter behind an old freezer, down by some stinging nettles…The farm is on the west edge of the main and largest island in Orkney, on the same latitude as Oslo and St Petersburg, with nothing but cliffs and oceans between it and Canada…To the south, the farm stretches along the shore to sandier land, which becomes the Bay of Skull, a mile-long beach, where the Stone Age village Skara Brae, sits. To the north…’ This is the land that shaped Amy Liptrot this is home.
A place she raged against ‘I didn’t ask to be born here’ and longed to escape from to more glamorous shores of London. But defeated by drink Liptrot beats a retreat worthy of Napoleon’s army fleeing from Moscow in cruelest winter. London leaves its marks on her. There’s a lump on her head, when she got into a car with a guy she didn’t know and he tried to knock her out and rape her. But perhaps more painful is the boyfriend she lived with who couldn’t take any more of her drinking and histrionics and fled while she was at work, in an office job she was made redundant from –and left her empty, a void she tried to fill with even more booze.
Drinking is always a story of the void. Liptrot knows that better than most and how the fates tempt her, the Scylla and Charybdis, of a vodka bottle washed up on the shore at her feet on the island of Papay where there are more birds than humans. And she wants to take that ‘mouthful of oblivion’ sent by the sea, but keeps walking and thinking instead. The rhythm of movement, of therapy, art and salvation. Keep moving, keep growing, become something you are not. That’s not the answer, but perhaps that’s a beginning. One day at a time.