London fog

Amy Liptrot’s The Outrun is a memoir and a piece of nature writing, like Katherine Norbury’s Fish Ladder, that describes Liptrot’s upbringing in the Orkney Islands, her moving to London and her intoxication with it, her literal intoxication as an alcoholic, her rehabilitation and return to the wind-buffeted northern islands of Scotland. She says, of clouds, that she likes ‘the idea of pollution creating something beautiful’, and this could stand well as a description of her illness and subsequent writing of the book. Throughout she intersperses descriptions of her personal London fog with the gradual clearing of her head through her immersion in the stark nature of the islands. She is honest about the process of recovery, about the demon on her shoulder whispering to her to just relapse and burn out gloriously, instead of plodding gradually to recovery.

She describes the need for the obsession of alcoholism to be redirected elsewhere and here it is in observations of birds, wind, clouds, geology, walking, snorkeling and island life. She maps her walks with GPS, she monitors shipping websites, she uses her phone to scan the night sky. She describes how as a drunk she increasingly obsessed over her phone, just as her illness correspondingly created a decline in the communication coming back to her. In the Orkneys her attention turns to how her phone (and the internet) can enlighten the non-human world. (The same technology allows you to find the cottage she stayed in on the island of Papay on google maps.) The lack of people focuses her attention on the wild, or at least on the simpler existence.

Incidentally, we often think of the world as becoming increasingly overpopulated, but that tends to be in the cities. The islands at the north of Scotland are far less populated than they used to be, says Liptrot. The complexities of modern life, that have supposedly made life easier, have, rather than encouraged and enabled people to live in more remote settings, drawn them away.

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