I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death – Maggie O’Farrell

Published October 4, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

I AM, I AM, I AM is a memoir with a difference – the unputdownable story of an extraordinary woman’s life in near-death experiences. Intelligent, insightful, inspirational, it is a book to be read at a sitting, a story you finish newly conscious of life’s fragility, determined to make every heartbeat count.

A childhood illness she was not expected to survive. A teenage yearning to escape that nearly ended in disaster. A terrifying encounter on a remote path. A mismanaged labour in an understaffed hospital. Shocking, electric, unforgettable, this is the extraordinary memoir from Costa Novel-Award winner and Sunday Times bestselling author Maggie O’Farrell.
It is a book to make you question yourself. What would you do if your life was in danger, and what would you stand to lose?

What did I think?:

Where do I even BEGIN with this book? I can’t express eloquently enough the depth of my feelings for this unforgettable memoir or even explain adequately how much it affected me but I’m going to give it a good shot. I listened to the Audible version of I Am, I Am, I Am (which I highly recommend by the way) but it’s one of those books that because it has become a favourite of mine, I simply had to get a hard copy also and was lucky enough to receive one as a gift. This book has had a lot of hype around the blogging/reviewing community and rightly so. After reading a fair few of Maggie O’Farrell’s novels, I already knew she was a gifted, beautiful writer but even after all the critical acclaim, I still wasn’t prepared for the wave of emotions this book invoked. There were points when I was almost a sobbing mess and kind of wished I wasn’t listening to it in public (more on that later) and other parts which made me reflect on the nature of mortality and the fascinating journey my life has been up until now whilst fully appreciating the good things and the great people that I am lucky to have around me and hold them close. I can’t thank the author enough for reminding me how precious they really are.

Maggie O’Farrell, author of I Am, I Am, I Am.

If you’re slightly cynical of the title and wonder how O’Farrell can possibly have had seventeen near death experiences, let me explain. The events that the author discusses are brushes with mortality that both she and her children have suffered in their lives. Some are mere whispers of things that might have been i.e. near escapes, potentially life-altering events and then there are the severe, life-threatening episodes that continue to have a dramatic effect on the author’s emotional and physical health. This ranges from a severe childhood illness that Maggie sadly still suffers repercussions from, encounters with individuals that threaten her life, problems with pregnancy and labour and the current trauma that Maggie finds herself embroiled in that profoundly affects the present and the future of one of her children. This is an honest, raw and deeply moving look at life and death in all its guises that may make you look at your own life in a whole different way but will most assuredly make you happy just to be alive.

I think I’ve become a more emotional person as I’ve got older and gone through different experiences in my life and I do find myself slightly more sensitive to difficult topics, including illness and death. However, I was profoundly moved by Maggie O’Farrell’s story and couldn’t quite comprehend a) the obstacles she has overcome in her life b) how she continues to struggle and cope on a daily basis with her daughter’s heart-breaking medical problems and c) how she manages to maintain such a strong, positive and sunny outlook. I felt humbled, inspired and honoured to be allowed into her world and, as I’ve mentioned, it did make me consider parts of my own life, particularly those parts where I felt a strong personal connection with the author.

I wrote a post a while back about how I’ve been coping with recurrent miscarriages and funnily enough, it seems to be a topic which appears in quite a few books I’ve read recently! I was worried at first about how I was going to deal with reading about it but I’m actually finding it quite therapeutic – now even more so with I Am, I Am, I Am. Miscarriage unfortunately seems to be still quite a taboo subject and when I was going through it these past eighteen months, I didn’t really feel able to talk to anyone who would really understand what I was going through. With this memoir, it’s so strange to say, but finally I feel understood and comforted. Maggie talks about her own loss so articulately and thoughtfully that it was such a relief to realise that all the emotions I was experiencing were perfectly natural and more importantly, that I wasn’t alone. Other people were going through this, other people felt the same way as me and I shouldn’t blame myself on any level. As I listened to this particular passage, I was walking to the train station on the way to work and I have to admit, it wasn’t the easiest thing to listen to whilst I was in public. But holy cow, was it rewarding? The answer is yes.

It’s often quite tricky to dissect a memoir. After all, this is someone’s life, personal experiences, tragedies and triumphs you’re talking about and we all may have differing opinions on it depending what we’ve been through in our own individual lives. However, for me this book was perfection. It reminded me about love, about how special life is and most importantly, how to hope and believe in a better future.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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28 comments on “I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death – Maggie O’Farrell

  • Fantastic review! You answered a lot of questions I had about this one. Like you I’ve also become more emotional, or emotionally affected, I guess? and stories about grave illnesses and medical mishaps tend to upset me. But it sounds like she articulates the experiences very meaningfully. I’m so sorry to hear what you’ve been through with miscarriages, I can’t even imagine. But I’m glad you found a voice like this to help you realize you’re not alone and even to be comforting. I think I really need to read this one, thanks for the lovely description of it!

    • Thank you so much for your kind words, that means so much. It has been tough but it has been wonderful to not only find an escape in fiction but as you say, to find a voice that has been there, done that, understands and comforts. Even without knowing she’s doing it! It’s a wonderful read. I know we talked a little bit about how tricky memoirs are to review before but with this one, it was an absolute pleasure and made the job VERY easy! 😊

      • I’m so happy you could find something in reading to provide that, it’s one of the ways turning to books can be so helpful – they can be amazing, quiet but powerful forms of therapy and comfort!
        And that’s really high praise when you didn’t have to navigate any of the trickiness of talking about memoir. I’m intrigued, will have to check this one out, it sounds incredibly meaningful.

        Sending you a big hug, by the way…it’s painful to talk about these things but I admire you for being open about what you’ve been through – I’m sure you’re helping others who’ve gone through similar to feel less alone or isolated in that experience as well.

  • What a beautiful, deeply personal review, Beth. ♥️ You are most definitely not alone, and YOU are helping others just by talking about your own experience. I think I read maybe the first paragraph of your review before I clicked over to buy the audio. It’s a given I’ll love it, too. 😉 ♥️ 😘

    • That’s so nice Jenni thank you 😊 all I want is to be able to help other people too. Haha I love what you said about the first paragraph I didn’t know I could be that convincing! 😂 Now I can’t WAIT to hear your thoughts. 😬

  • Oh doll ❤ Sometimes there's nothing more comforting than reading someone articulate beautifully a loss that you share and feel. I'm really glad you reviewed this one, because I was under the (wrong) impression that it was 17 stories *from different people* about near-death experiences – the fact that it's one woman's story… WOW. I've been thinking a lot about pairing non-fiction and fiction reads lately, and it sounds like this one would pair really well with Kate Atkinson's Life After Life. Sending you big hugs x

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