I recently read two books that have landscape as a theme; H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald and The Outrun by Amy Liptrot. The books are similar in many ways; both written by women in the aftermath of emotional turmoil and both the story of recovery by distraction. Macdonald distracts herself from a deep state of grief by training a goshawk called Mabel and Liptrot distracts herself from her alcoholic cravings by immersing herself in the landscape of the Orkneys.
H is for Hawk was given to me by a friend who admitted (after I’d read the book) that she failed to complete it. I have to admit that I got to a point about two thirds of the way through where I almost gave up but I’m glad I didn’t. The book is tough going and pretty dense but it is beautifully written and, in truth, it’s the quality of the writing that got me through this rather depressing read. The best parts of the book are the passages where Macdonald is out of that house and training Mabel. The descriptions of landscape are excellent.
H for Hawk is a book I was glad to get to the end of but The Outrun is a book I didn’t want to end; it’s a fresh and exhilarating read with plenty of contrast in time and space. Liptrot’s story is one of extremes. It begins by detailing her alcoholic misadventures in London and her experience in rehabilitation before moving north and to her recovery in the Orkneys. It’s a relatively simple narrative but the structure of the book is excellent with London flashbacks standing in for her pangs and cravings during recovery. There’s also an echo of Heart of Darkness as her journey towards recovery takes her to ever remoter islands and wilder landscapes. This is a book I could read again and I look forward to her future writing – highly recommended.∗
The Outrun cover illustration by Kai & Sunny.