BOOK REVIEW: I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O’Farrell

The Blurb (from Goodreads):

We are never closer to life than when we brush up against the possibility of death.

I Am, I Am, I Am is Maggie O'Farrell's astonishing memoir of the near-death experiences that have punctuated and defined her life. The childhood illness that left her bedridden for a year, which she was not expected to survive. A teenage yearning to escape that nearly ended in disaster. An encounter with a disturbed man on a remote path. And, most terrifying of all, an ongoing, daily struggle to protect her daughter--for whom this book was written--from a condition that leaves her unimaginably vulnerable to life's myriad dangers.

Seventeen discrete encounters with Maggie at different ages, in different locations, reveal a whole life in a series of tense, visceral snapshots. In taut prose that vibrates with electricity and restrained emotion, O'Farrell captures the perils running just beneath the surface, and illuminates the preciousness, beauty, and mysteries of life itself.

My Thoughts:

Maggie O’Farrell is an Irish-born, British-raised novelist whose books I have often heard recommended, but have never read. A friend of mine raved about I Am, I Am, I Am on twitter and I bought the book straightaway – partly because I trust my friend’s judgement and partly because I’ve often thought about writing a memoir about my own encounters with death, but always concluded that the subject matter was too dark and too difficult, and no-one would want to read such a thing anyway.


I was obviously wrong, because I Am, I Am, I Am reached No 1 on the Sunday Times bestseller list, scored numerous rave reviews, and was shortlisted for quite a few awards. And although it is a dark subject, this book is utterly beautiful and life-affirming – Maggie O’Farrell writes with luminous grace, self-deprecating humour, and true poignancy about life and death and love and fear:


‘There is nothing unique or special in a near-death experience. They are not rare; everyone, I would venture, has had them, at one time or another, perhaps without even realising it. The brush of a van too close to your bicycle, the tired medic who realises that a dosage ought to be checked one final time, the driver who has drunk too much and is reluctantly persuaded to relinquish the car keys, the train missed after sleeping through an alarm, the aeroplane not caught, the virus never inhaled, the assailant never encountered, the path not taken. We are, all of us, wandering about in a state of oblivion, borrowing our time, seizing our days, escaping our fates, slipping through loopholes, unaware of when the axe may fall.’


The title comes from a quote from Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar: 'I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.' It’s the perfect quote for this extraordinarily beautiful book, and Maggie O’Farrell uses it with keen wit and flair. Must. Now. Read. More. Of. Maggie. O’Farrell.

You might also like to read my review of The Joy of High Places by Patti Miller:

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Kate Forsyth
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