Magazine article The Spectator

'The Outrun', by Amy Liptrot - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'The Outrun', by Amy Liptrot - Review

Article excerpt

'If I were to go mad,' Amy Liptrot writes in her memoir of alcoholism and the Orkneys, 'It would come as no surprise at all.' One surprise of this book is its sanity, which is remarkable, given Liptrot's beginnings.

We open, unforgettably, with her parents passing each other on an island runway. Her mother is being flown home from hospital, holding the newborn Amy; her father, in the grip of a manic episode and a strait jacket, is heading the other way. Liptrot recalls another fit which drove him to smash all the windows of the family farm and hide with her, aged 11, from the police and doctors. 'As his sedatives kicked in I crouched with my father in a corner of my bedroom, sharing a banana. "You are my girl," he said.' Liptrot leaves us shivering at the implications.

Her mother joins an evangelical church, exposing the young girl to the theatrics of charismatic preachers and their totalitarian take on the devil and masturbation. If home is intense, things are wild outdoors. The Orkneys enjoy winds so strong that in 1952 they plucked 70,000 chickens into oblivion and had 'tethered cows flying in the air like kites'.

Everything below their largest island, 'the mainland', is 'south' to Orcadians; Liptrot flees to a London which is mostly a purgatorial Hackney. After she slips away from a party in order 'to drink alone and at a faster pace' alcoholism descends: fighting, hysterics, losing love and being subject to violent attack are described with extreme calm. Instead of dialogue (barely a dozen lines) or substantially realised characters, The Outrun presents a meditative interior journey of the kind the internet spawns in unreadable infinity, but which Liptrot

elevates to an art.

Patrick Hamilton would have raised a double to her description of alcoholic

neuropathy, in which the body freezes into semi-paralysis, and a second to her self-portait in London, through which we gain a sense of intensely lonely generations split between dowdy realities and cybereal dreams. 'Wherever I am, I spend most of my time with a laptop online,' she writes. 'I've moved around a lot but the internet is my home.'

In the book's second strand, which sees Liptrot pass through rehab and tackle the Twelve Steps on the way back to the Orkneys, and on to the outermost of them, Papa Westray (also known as Papay), the drama shifts. …

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