After a decade in London, a troubled woman returns home to a rural island in northern Scotland, hoping to heal.
Liptrot begins with the harrowing details of her birth. When she was just hours old, her mother rode a wheelchair down the runway of an airport and placed her in the lap of her straightjacket-clad father, who was to be airlifted to a mental hospital on the mainland. It’s a fitting introduction to the chronicle of a life plagued with hardship. The author grew up on a farm high on the cliffs of Orkney: “nothing but cliffs and ocean between it and Canada.” Her parents were outsiders from England who had come to the insular island to start anew, and they were an odd pair—an evangelical Christian and a bipolar schizophrenic. Liptrot longed to escape and eventually did, to London. Of course, the pain didn’t disappear; she found herself covering it up with destructive behavior: drugs, alcohol, and meaningless sex. As she writes, “my life was rough and windy and tangled.” Bookstores are packed with countless addiction memoirs, and there are also plenty that see a prodigal son or daughter coming home to slay his or her demons. What makes Liptrot’s book different is the otherworldly setting. When she returned to the Orkneys, she immersed herself in nature, taking long walks around her family’s wind-swept land, early-morning swims in the frigid cold Atlantic Ocean, watching the northern lights from an old theater in the middle of town, and tracking the flocks of birds coming down from the Arctic. Eventually, Liptrot found peace and began to imagine a kind of future she had never before thought possible. She also includes a glossary to define such terms as “haar” (sea fog) and “kirk" (church).
An ordinary addiction memoir set in an extraordinary place—worth reading for the descriptions of life on a “beautiful, barely touched stretch of land.”