Hello and welcome to my Sunday Recommendation. Thanks for joining me. Every week I read great wildlife and nature books, stumble upon engrossing websites and hear wonderful new music. This is my chance to bring you carefully curated recommendations of all the best I’ve experienced – every Sunday. If it’s folk, or independent, or about wildlife, nature or Orkney, I may love it, and so may you.
The Instant – Amy Liptrot
Musicians know all about ‘the difficult second album’. As I pick up a copy of The Instant by Amy Liptrot I wonder if the same thing happens to novelists, or, to be more accurate, memoirists. A first book includes all those thoughts, feelings and insights you have collected over decades and forms them into sedimentary rock. What becomes of the more recent experiences and their ability to resonate with an audience. Can they be as permanent or are they only half-formed? Will The Instant be as substantial as Liptrot’s debut, The Outrun?
I take my copy of The Instant on a visit to my parents, to read in the evenings. I don’t have a chance. My mum decides to start reading it while I am out, and nods about how good it is, as she goes back to devouring it, when I return. She loved The Outrun, too. I buy more copies, one for my friend and neighbour, one for The Puffin Whisperer and another one for me.
Finally, at home, I settle down in my favourite bedroom snuggler with a cup of (instant) coffee and begin reading. Three hours pass before I realise my coffee is cold.
It’s immediately apparent that The Instant is a masterclass in inventive, challenging, experimental writing. Paragraphs collide like Atlantic wave upon rock, and crash with a boom as they hit the air in a sea cave. Liptrot has deliberately chosen the contrasting colours of longing and heartache, scientific fact and the natural world, and the impersonal anonymity of strange-city living, and clashed them in a dizzying pattern of meaningful, well-designed ways. The weaving of The Instant is less writing, more fabric design. The setting of The Instant, while not in the immediate present, is still so contemporary that it’s a social commentary and a philosophical essay on the nature of relationships in our modern connected world. She is particularly strong at noticing, and marking out the commonplace and everyday so we see ourselves afresh, as if glimpsed in a mirror, saying, “So that’s who we are.”
The heartache she experiences in a year in Berlin is documented from the perspective of recovery, as she dissects, labels and categorises her emotional and intellectual reactions with the skill of a psychological vivisectionist. She retains the intense heat and emotional intensity of the experience, in her writing, despite the detached reasoning, cold contemplation and eventual understanding which follow it.
The setting of The Instant is so ‘in the now’ that in ten years time, it could seem outdated and even unfashionable. In twenty-five years it could be seen as a seminal work which captures future nostalgia for this time perfectly for an entire generation. In fifty years it could be taught in universities as a perfectly executed exercise in experimental writing and explored in PhD theses for its comments on some of the great universal themes of love, loss and obsession.
The Instant is a profoundly romantic book of yearning, adventure and discovery. If you want to feel attachment to the moon or submission to the sea, then this book is for you. I loved it and so did my mum.
That’s it for this week. I’ll be back with more recommendations of things you might adore next Sunday. In the meantime, I wish you a great week. Keep safe, everyone.