“Remarkably evocative” – The Instant by Amy Liptrot

IMG_2022-2-23-185951In The Outrun, Amy Liptrot escaped London, and her alcoholism, to build a new life on Orkney. She discovers a new stability by immersion in nature (and the cold North Sea) but by the beginning of The Instant she is wondering “if this was the life I’d stopped drinking to live.” She is lonely, and, appropriately, she defines the isolation of her life on Orkney in terms of social media: “my photos used to be all of people; now they were of the sky.” So, she moves to Berlin to find new experiences and the possibility of love.

In Berlin she realises that many of the people she meets have similar reasons for being there, though (like Liptrot) their freedom is ambiguous. Berlin offers the possibility of “living in the city to pursue creative ambitions” but such ambitions are paid for by casual work (in Liptrot’s case, she works in a warehouse). They are people who have “chosen not to have regular work, who have chosen uncertainty and are privileged to do so.” There is an interesting honesty is her awareness of being “not so much an economic migrant, as a lifestyle migrant, coming here seeking new experiences.” However, such honesty, and often the perspectives Liptrot takes, are more commonly found in journalism rather than memoir. At times, this book feels like a magazine article, though in the most complimentary way (the sort of article Joan Didion might have written).

As in The Outrun, Liptrot turns to nature for connection and begins to explore the city’s natural life. Berlin is overrun, we find, with raccoons, and has a colony of goshawks. Liptrot is always keenly attuned to the interactions of the human and natural worlds: “as humans become more urbanised, so do animals.” A failed relationship with a narcissistic man serves to drive Liptrot to yet more self-knowledge, to further analyse herself:

“a relationship between an addict and a narcissist is a potent and dangerous combination. When the two come together, there’s a supply and demand that feeds into both their particular weaknesses.”

At the heart of this book, however, is a study of how we relate to the world around us, but that is the world of the internet rather than nature.

Liptrot notes that over the last decade she has had over twenty delivery addresses but only one email address: “the internet is my most stable home.” If it provides stability, it also offers endless opportunity for self-doubt and regret. At the end of her affair, she looks over the saved emails with her lover and becomes “an archaeologist of my own past.” It is revelatory to understand how much digital life allows the constant investigation of one’s emotional life: “I’m curating a museum to our relationship in a folder on my computer.” The solipsism of such a life is acknowledged. In The Instant, everyone Liptrot interacts with is referred to as B, she is borrowing from Andy Warhol:

“he refers to himself, Andy, as A and whoever is with him, a shifting rota of assistants and friends, as B.”

Liptrot’s intense, unflinching, honesty makes her writing remarkably evocative, it is impossible not to identify with her experiences and the emotions they draw out. It is reminiscent more of poetry, than journalism, in understanding that landscape (whether the natural, or urban, worlds) is as much a reflection of the emotional life as it is a solace. It is this sense of searching for meaning, for identifying what we share with the other beings and worlds around us that makes Liptrot so readable, able to connect her own inner life with that of the reader.

Any Cop?: The Instant is not as immediately bracing and reflective as The Outrun but it is another deeply serious, and brokenly honest, insight into how we bridge the divide between our innate character, still connected to nature, and the modern world:

“I’m a Neolithic person. I’m a mason. In one pocket I have an iPhone, in the other a chisel.”

James Doyle

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