Category Archives: Canongate
The Outrun – Amy Liptrot
The Last Word Review
For Amy Liptrot a life that seemed to be on the very edge of life. Struggling with addiction to alcohol, life seemed to be overtaking her and really taking her to some very dark places The Outrun is the 2016 Wainwright Prize winning memoir and also shortlisted for the 2016 Wellcome Prize. An evocative account of her own life mixed with brilliant nature writing.
How many of us when we were young want the bright lights of London and seek the fame and fortune that went with it. For Amy Liptrot a life growing up on Orkney she yearned for the bright lights of London that seemed a lifetime away. She wanted it all and most of all to leave the Island life. Growing up on Orkney was difficult not just the isolation but for Amy is was trouble at home with her father suffering mental health problems and a deeply religious mother leaned Amy away from all things religion. London was calling her.
London though as many young people find is full of temptations, and for Amy for the coming years it was living life with all its extremes of drink, drugs and sex. Life was a never ending rollercoaster of everything that could be wrong for her. Amy was going downhill and quickly. To be able to admit to yourself that you are in trouble is brave then to be determined to want to do something about it is braver still for this brave young woman she was determined not to become another statistic and so she sought help. She entered rehab to try and rid herself of the poison that was destroying her young life and would eventually kill her.
Amy returns home to Orkney and this is her story of how nature is a great healer but she also has her own demons to cope with as she comes to terms with dealing with the problems of her young life. Growing up on a remote sheep farm on Orkney is not an easy life mix that with family problems and the yearning to escape is easy to understand. Life in London is much faster than the quiet and peaceful life of the remote island of Orkney. Now home Amy visits the sheep farm where she grew up. Being home among its wildlife and the extremes of the weather helps Amy recover from the effects of alcohol as she looks back on her life and the decisions she made and how it got her to where she is today.
This really is not just a memoir this is a piece of incredible nature writing at its very best. For someone like me who loves nature and nature writing this is exceptional. Reading Amy’s account of her troubled life and how she rebuilds it back among the wildlife and weather and the natural history of these Scottish Islands has left a lasting mark. As you read her accounts of swimming in the sea watching the changing season and its wildlife as well as she talks of the lands that make up the islands you can almost smell the sea and feel the wind blowing in your face.
The Outrun is deeply moving at times and the quality of Amy’s writing is just outstanding. As you read you become immersed in Amy’s life and you become worried for the brave author as she struggles to overcome the temptations of life that can destroy you. It is both affecting and sad but also restorative and nature does that as it lends its helping hand to help heal a troubled soul.
A book that in itself will help anyone troubled and one I am both happy and delighted to recommend.
I can only hope that is is not the only book from Amy Liptrot as her writing qualities and there to be seen by many. I look forward to reading more from this award winning writer in the years to come.
The Outrun by Amy Liptrot is published by Canongate and is available through Waterstones and all good bookshops.
Christmas Books Wrap up
Well here we are before we knew it Christmas has arrived and with it some pretty amazing books. So what better than to celebrate than review three Christmas books. So I thought a Christmas wrap up of three Christmas books I have chosen to review this year. With a number of really good books to choose from it was narrowed down to the three I have chosen.
A BOY CALLED CHRISTMAS BY MATT HAIG
Many years ago I read Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol, but since then not very many Christmas books have I read, not that I am a bar humbug, more tried to stay away from the tinsel and glitter of some of the books, but I have to confess the last few years I have come to enjoy the spirit of Christmas in literary form once again and with Matt Haig’s A Boy Called Christmas it is a joy to the world creation that only Matt Haig could have written.
It is the story of Nikolas an 11-year old boy who happens to have the nickname of ‘Christmas’ as he so happened to be born on Christmas Day. Living with his father (Joel) in the Woods in a very basic woodcutter cabin. Life is pretty hard for Nikolas and his father as they a very poor, with no toys to play with only a toy head carved out of a Turnip, a sleigh made by his father and a rather friendly mouse by the name of Miika. Nikolas lost his mother after she was killed by a bear some years before.
One day they receive a visitor to the cabin which is rare to say the least as no-one comes to call on them and an offer is made to Nikolas’s father a chance to make a lots of money by proving the existence of the village of Elfhelm, no-one has ever proved the existence of the village of the elves. Knowing that this would mean leaving Nikolas in the care of the evil child-hating aunt Carlotta. So the story moves on and Joel sets off with a group of ‘characters’ to the frozen North of Finland leaving Nikolas in the care of his aunt Carlotta. Things could not be worse for the woodcutter’s son and so Nikolas decides he can stand no longer to be so poorly treated and the terrible insults to his late mother, Nikolas decides to set off and follow in his father’s footsteps and together with Miika they head off into the woods in a quest to find his father.
Sleeping in the open and with little or no food apart from Mushrooms it is hard going. While at a lake they encounter a reindeer they call Blitzen after the lake.
Then Nikolas is rescued by some of the very elves his father was sent to look for and he is taken to Elfhelm. But it transpires that all is not well and that humans are not at all welcome. Thrown into the dungeon with that also holds a troll and the Truth Pixie. Along the journey that Nikolas has taken bad things do occur but some good things happen as well. Now Nikolas begins to see simple kindness that can make such a difference. So now the story of Nikolas is being told and the journey that he undertakes and the man that we all know so well every 25 December that brings gifts to the boys and girls around the world.
Matt Haig’s A Boy Called Christmas is a book that is destined to become a Christmas classic that will span generations to come. It is one of the most beautiful books I have read this year, it is just magical in every sense of the word. Humorous and also heart-breaking.
What brings the book to life is the illustrations by Chris Mould, just outstanding and capture the mood of the story.
The perfect book to be given as a gift imagine at the wonder of a child on Christmas morning just reading this in bed. Brings to life the story of the man in the red and white suit as well as the meanings of Christmas.
A Boy Called Christmas written by Matt Haig is published by Canongate
A SNOW GARDEN BY RACHEL JOYCE
After the success of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennesy Rachel Joyce brings together a stunningly beautiful collection of six short stories in A Snow Garden that is just in time for Christmas each with their own message.
Each of the stories is paced as so is no more than 40 pages in length but complex in nature. What Rachel Joyce has written is primarily aimed at someone’s very own Christmas and that each of the stories is unique in their differences and characters. From the first A Faraway Smell of Lemon were we meet Binny just after her long-time partner has left her for another woman and who is now pregnant. Binny has not showed any emotion following the split and has carried her emotions in her pocket so that no-one else can see. Christmas is fast approaching and she cannot even think of celebrating but we see that her children are excited. She then takes it upon herself to find solace in quality cleaning products. This one story alone is packed full of emotion that when you add Christmas to the story you are left emotional. One of my personal favourites.
Then there is Christmas Day at the Airport there are no flights as they have all been grounded, there is a heavily pregnant woman in this story with a family, here is a glimpse of people’s lives being stranded at an airport on Christmas Day and who each cope.
Each of the stories though unique I found intertwined with the next in some way that I know only Rachel Joyce could write and how she can pour emotions into words, just to get a feel of the stories, I urge you to read the forward, this gives a very unique insight into how Joyce came to write about each of the characters.
I get the feeling that some of these characters have been living in Rachel Joyce’s beautiful writing cabin just waiting to be brought to life in the short stories that are A Snow Garden. Each will leave you feeling with a warm feeling that only these short stories can bring you. This is perfect for a quiet Christmas read if you are short of time in between all the festivities. The cover design is just stunning and encapsulates the entire spirit of the book.
A Snow Garden written by Rachel Joyce and published by Doubleday
THE CHRISTMAS WE MET BY KATE LORD BROWN
The story opens in a wintery January 1979, Grace has been left broken as her husband has disappeared and not only that but he has taken all their money with him. Now Grace alone has to face the future with her daughter Harriet. Grace was running her own Jewellery business but alas as she cannot afford to run the business by herself she now gets the only other work she is qualified to do as a Personal Assistant for Fraser Stratton at Wittering Manor, but she would rather avoid working for the eccentric Fraser Stratton as he expects a little more than she is prepared to give. But needs must. Fraser is putting his memoir together and it is Grace’s role to put that into some readable quality that might sell a few copies down the line.
There are a number of leading characters all with a story and Grace has to cut through the lies and deceit, there is mystery abound in The Christmas We Met and Jewels are part of the story and for me play a leading role as you will find out for yourselves.
Grace also meets Jack Fraser’s godson and she feels at home in his company a blossoming romance on the cards, he just happens to be in the right place at the right time on that cold snowy winters day.
There is a lot going on in this story and at times you may feel you are losing track keeping up with the intrigue, but stick with this it is worth every page. Not like your normal Christmas story and that is why it made my selection, it has some much going for it with each character and watching how Grace deals with the lies from those around her.
At times Fraser would recount the family history which I quite liked as it brought a historical piece to the story and just adds to the storyline in general. I must give credit to Kate Lord Brown for the amount of attention to detail throughout.
There are so many questions that you start to ask yourself as you read through The Christmas We Met that you so dearly want to see Grace find the happiness she deserves. Does she find the answers to the Brooch that she inherited from her Grandmother? Only time will tell.
If you are looking to lose yourself in a story that you will not want to put down over Christmas, then this is your book.
The Christmas We Met written by Kate Lord Brown published by Orion Publishing Group.
So there we have my three Christmas reads selections for 2015 each one very different and giving each reader a different view over Christmas. I enjoyed all three as they gave me so much more than I could imagine. Has this changed my view on Christmas books, well only Christmas 2016 will tell it has a lot to live up to.
To each of you I wish you the happiest of Christmases and may it bring you lots of wonderful books to read over the holiday period. Books can take us to places that only dream may take us.
Merry Christmas and happy reading.