Tag Archives: Amy Liptrot

My top 5 reads of 2017

10 Jan

It feels like 2017 was a strange year of reading for me. Having set out at the start with the intention of reading more I ended up reading fewer books than I did in 2016. I gave up on more books this year too and I wonder whether this was as a result of an awareness of reading time being more precious. That said, there were still books aplenty to enjoy, and a clutch I got really excited about. There were a couple of real standout titles in 2017 that I knew would be in my top five the moment I’d read them but, as ever, whittling the favourites down to five is not easy. Ned Beauman’s Madness Is Better Than Defeat almost made it (I still can’t see an octopus without remembering…), and Jess Richards’ wonderfully lyrical City of Circles whose opening chapter is like a breath you can’t release. Sarah Day’s Mussolini’s Island was a pleasure, sensitive and melancholy, and opening up a chapter of history that is little known. And then there was The Trouble With Goats And Sheep by Joanna Cannon, which Mrs Van loved as much as I did. I defy anyone not to fall for Tilly!

 

But down to business: March, the promise of spring and the first of my top five, Balli Kaur Jaswal’s Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows. One of Mrs Van’s favourites too, you really can’t beat a book that can make you laugh out loud, and Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows will do it over and over. Add to that excellent characters and a storyline that will make you look, and then look again at life and you’ve got a real winner on your hands.

 

The next of my top five came to me in June. A book that had been on my radar for a while, though I knew little about it beyond the title and the lovely cover, Amy Liptrot’s The Outrun was an unexpected pleasure. Unexpected because I didn’t know before reading that it was a memoir, and also that it was so uplifting, its lyrical beauty a welcome counterpoint to that febrile sense that necessitated the writing of the book in the first place. Little wonder it won the Wainwright Prize in 2016.

 

From the Orkney Islands in June to South Africa in July and Kopano Matlwa’s Evening Primrose blew me away. It’s not a big book – just 150 pages – but its punch is mighty! It’s interesting for me to realise that I read this the month following The Outrun too as these books feel similar in some ways, visceral and honest, spare and lyrical. There has to be a sense of truth in any book for it to really work but some books bear more truth than others. The truth in Evening Primrose is almost too much to bear. A stunning piece of work.

 

The international flavour continues in September, and it’s Japan this time for Alison Jean Lester’s Yuki Means Happiness. I can’t help but smile, remembering this book and the extraordinarily vivid rendering of little Yuki. It’s like going back to the adorable photos of the little ones in your own life. It’s that characterisation that really makes this book, connecting like a mainline straight to the heart so you feel everything that happens. This was another one that Mrs Van loved too, our favourites coinciding a lot more than in previous years.

 

Finally, November brought Laura Carlin’s The Wicked Cometh. I think I would’ve known this would be in my top five even if I’d read it back in January. A lush and pretty proof with its purple velvet and gold lettering, it’s a treat and no mistake. Hands down, this is up there as Mrs Van’s favourite of the year – I started reading this one to Mrs Van and didn’t get a chance to finish it first. We raced through it in a single weekend. It’s absolutely gripping, an assault on the senses that I’d urge you to get your hands on, and you’ve not got long to wait now!

 

As for 2018, well things are looking pretty good already. After all, you’ve got the absolute delight that is The Wicked Cometh on its way, and there are second books from Fran Cooper (a review of which will follow shortly) and Anthony Trevelyan, both of whom produced stunning debuts (Fran’s excellent These Dividing Walls and Anthony’s sublime The Weightless World, both of which deserve to be very widely read). So here’s wishing you all health and happiness in 2018, and as much joy, heartbreak, adventure, fantasy and truth as you can find between the covers of the books you read.

 

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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