I wonder if there’s much overlap between readers of nature fiction and those interested in alcoholism. The Outrun has been recommended to me a lot and I liked the idea of reading about Orkney, even if I wouldn’t normally pick up a memoir about addiction.
In some ways I could relate to Amy. Whilst I grew up at the other end of Scotland, I understood what she meant by having English parents as a Scottish child, as well as that desire to escape rural life as a teenager. And once you’ve escaped you want to make the most of it. Whilst I may have got myself into a drunken mess now and again, this is when our experiences diverge. It is difficult to read about someone’s self destruction and there is a point where you understand why people abandon her.
The rumblings of mental illness under my life were amplified by the presence of my mother’s extreme religion and by the landscape I was born into, the continual, perceptible crashing of the sea at the edges.
I was surprised to learn that AA was a religious affair. I can understand Amy’s reluctance to attend, even after she’s sober. The fact that the NHS refer people means there really should be a secular option. It’s depressing to think you can only get better if you have something spiritual to embrace. Amy finally embraces nature as her thing, which I guess is the best option.
What I did love was the descriptions of Orkney, the wildlife, history, landscape and weather. How it’s at the mercy of the elements and life is restricted by what can be shipped or farmed there, but simpler for it. The people have embraced southerners, as they are the key to the survival of these islands, where so many leave, just like Amy did.
Here I have been mixing with people of all ages and backgrounds – we have to – whereas in London I was in a bubble.
When she returns to Orkney, she intends it to be temporary, just while she gets back on her feet. I think she misses the idea of London rather than what is there for her in reality. There is less temptation on the islands and she spends her summer nights tracking and counting corncrakes for the RSPB. She starts visiting other islands, appreciating the power of nature and the solace. She learns about the birds and about the stars, about the practicalities of living on a small northern island during a harsh winter.
They inform me that the ‘shivery baby goat’ sound I hear is snipe ‘drumming’, an eerie, memorable wobble made by its tail feathers.
It jumps around a little bit between topics, and sometimes there’s not always a direct correlation between her thoughts and what she chooses to describe next. I guess in real life it’s not always easy to do this.
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