Archive | June, 2017

Van has finished reading… The Outrun by Amy Liptrot

15 Jun

outrun

I thought this was a novel. I’m not sure where in all the flurry of tweets around its release I missed the memo that it’s a memoir but a part of me wishes you could meet it without any foreknowledge too. There’s something very forceful in the realisation that a life you read on the page – a place where you come to expect extremes of one kind or another – is not well-crafted to appear so, but actually real. Add to that the reason why we like some books more than others, the fact that we tend to read more closely when we identify with a character in some way and you begin to see what good writing really does. And Amy Liptrot’s The Outrun is good writing. Let’s not call it brave. That would be to demean it in some way, to miss the point. Necessary is what this memoir is.

The Outrun chronicles Amy Liptrot’s association with alcohol from zenith to nadir, her flight from and return to The Orkney Islands and how this uncompromising landscape shaped her journey into recovery.

The writing is really sharp, unflinching without sensationalising, and in the descriptions of the landscape, wildlife and weather around The Orkneys vivid and precise. It’s no surprise The Outrun won the Wainwright Prize in 2016, an award giving for writing on the outdoors (though likely to cause a raised eyebrow given it’s the Wainwright Golden Beer Prize). Through the course of the memoir Amy Liptrot picks at the knot of her life, questioning her past without blame or recrimination, and the mark her birthplace has made on her is clear, likening London’s tower block flats and offices to the rock stacks of Orkney. The thing that really struck me about it is the tension. I don’t know what it is in us to make us lean towards the broken. We love to claim we’re obsessed by something or addicted to something with a dismissive wave and a smile. Harmless things like a pop group or chocolate or shopping, sometimes even things that aren’t so harmless. But there’s a hum that runs through this book, like a plucked string vibrating, always there, urgent though not overtly apparent. It’s the thing on every page that’s not said, the thing that’s in all of us, that great yawning chasm that even if you’ve only ever been on the periphery of real addiction you’ll know is just waiting for that moment when you’re at your lowest ebb so you might turn around and look. All the way to the bottom.

All this might give you the impression of bleakness. If, like me (and I would guess many of us) you’ve never been to the Orkneys you might well have the same impression but, like her beloved islands, Amy Liptrot’s The Outrun is anything but bleak. Tough it may be but there is life here and plenty of it and that can only lift the heart.

 

The Outrun was published by Canongate on 14th January 2016 ISBN: 9781782115472

You can find Amy on Twitter @amy_may

Vanya Demalovich has finished reading… Two Cousins Of Azov by Andrea Bennett

8 Jun

azov

How nice it is to be back in Azov. How nice to involve oneself in the everyday of post-soviet, pre-Putin Russia. The eagle-eyed among you might recognise a certain Mr Goryoun Tigranovich Papasyan, co-protagonist of Andrea Bennett’s latest instalment on life in Azov (can we hope this will one day bloom into a Barsetshire-sized chronicle?), as the neighbour whose absence lays the first steps of Galina Petrovna’s Three-Legged Dog Story.

Things are not going well for the Two Cousins Of Azov. The aforementioned Gor finds himself plagued by inexplicable events, while his cousin Tolya is at the local sanatorium with no idea how he got there, lost in folklore and memory. Dry, sceptical Gor and artistic, impressionable Tolya each seek a route into their past to try and unpick the mystery of the things that haunt them in the present. A vivid and varied cast attend to help or hinder the search, including an appearance from a character from Galina Petrovna’s Three-Legged Dog Story that will delight fans of Andrea Bennett’s debut. I particularly liked Albina. She is unmistakably and infuriatingly teenaged, but also wonderfully and heart-warmingly teenaged. And she lisps, which never fails to make Mrs Van smile when I read it to her.

The author’s eye for the comedic scene remains sharp as ever. There’s a dryness to the humour that certainly suits me, and sits very well with the characters. Not being overplayed, it also serves to set up those necessary moments of pathos well. These are characters to feel for and identify with, and while the distance between them and us, and now and then may be great, the beauty of the book is that their problems are not so different to our problems. These are things that could happen anywhere. Who knows, you might even know someone like them!

Andrea Bennett’s Two Cousins Of Azov is ideal for your holiday reading, and if you’ve not caught up with Galina Petrovna’s Three-Legged Dog Story, I encourage you to pick up both books. You can laugh, and maybe cry a bit too, and feel the welcome chill of autumn in Azov while you slowly cook in the sun!

 

Two Cousins Of Azov will be published on 13th July 2017 by Borough Press ISBN:9780008159573

You can find Andrea on Twitter @Andreawiderword

My thanks to Ann Bissell at HarperCollins for allowing me to review this book.