I came to read this book as a result of reading Everything I know About Love by Dolly Alderton, which I have previously reviewed. The Outrun was recommended as perhaps a better account of drinking too much in your youth.
Amy Liptrot was born on Orkney to English parents who had moved there, looking to farm and moving further North in their search until they found a place they could afford. Feeling trapped in Island Life as she grew up Amy fled South to London when age allowed her and the opening chapters of the book cover her time there until, at 30, she went into rehab for her excessive drinking. In between 18 and 30 she loses jobs, flats and a boyfriend. She describes disastrous nights out, desperate drunken pleas for help and embarrassing requests for loans of money or alcohol on tick. After successfully completing her day release rehab course she and her mother agree that going home to Orkney might help for a while. She doesn’t plan on staying and agrees with herself that if she is still there after a year of sobriety she will start drinking again.
Back on Orkney she moves in with her mother. By this time her parents are divorced and the Farm House has been sold off. Her father continues to farm the land and live in a strapped down caravan on the land, to prevent it blowing away when the gales start.
The beauty of this book really commences once Amy has left London and the depressing life of being an alcoholic. Once ensconced on Orkney the beauty of nature and the therapy that this provides to Amy’s recovery really serve to make this book something rather special. Amy shares memories of lambing on the farm when she was a child, she moves through the remote Scottish Islands describing the landscape and the inhabitants. She sees birds and seals and a walrus. She becomes fascinated with the stars and the Northern Lights. Surrounded by less people she has more personal connections though describes the importance of the internet for connections outside of these remote islands as well as being able to share sightings of whales so that all the inhabitants can see them.
Amy takes a rather marvellous job with the RSPB to track a rare bird which she does at night, driving and stopping to listen for its call. Once this work is completed she moves to an even more remote Island to winter in an RSPB cottage. Here all she sees is the sky and the sea and here she sees more planets in the sky and more wildlife and has an extraordinary experience with the Northern Lights.
This was a really beautiful book and made me want to go out and see these islands where they apparently are trying to encourage people to move. I did enjoy it, particularly the nature. I didn’t enjoy it as much as Dolly’s book but I think that is just because I related more to Dolly’s book. By the time this book starts Amy is an alcoholic. She doesn’t put all her empties into the bin to hide her consumption and hides extras in her wardrobe. She spends her days crying and drinking alone. Nevertheless I think this book would appeal to so many people whether or not you relate to that level of drinking. I certainly hope one day to see all that sea and all that sky and maybe see and Island that doesn’t really exist.