Maggie O’Farrell

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Nonfiction November Week 4: Reads Like Fiction

Published November 24, 2018 by bibliobeth

Hello everyone and welcome to the fourth week of Nonfiction November! If you’d like to find out what it’s all about, please see my post two weeks ago where I revealed my Nonfiction November TBR. my post for Week 1 where I talked briefly about my year in nonfiction so far and Week 2 where I paired up three nonfiction books alongside similar fiction tomes. Week 3 invited us to Be The Expert/Ask The Expert/Become The Expert.

This week as the title suggests, it’s all about non-fiction that “reads like fiction,” and is hosted by the lovely Rennie from What’s Nonfiction. You can check out her post HERE.

Nonfiction books often get praised for how they stack up to fiction. Does it matter to you whether nonfiction reads like a novel? If it does, what gives it that fiction-like feeling? Does it depend on the topic, the writing, the use of certain literary elements and techniques? What are your favorite nonfiction recommendations that read like fiction? And if your nonfiction picks could never be mistaken for novels, what do you love about the differences?

I’ve found this topic so interesting this week and have been racking my brains regarding my personal thoughts on it. I have to admit, it took me a little while to find my niche in nonfiction, I used to read solely fiction and found the nonfiction I was picking up a little dry and uninspiring. It’s only over the past six or seven years or so (and mainly due to the interaction with all you lovely bookish folk) that I’ve found nonfiction that really works for me.

As I mentioned in my previous posts this month, this tends to fall in the categories of popular science (particularly neuroscience but I’ll read anything really!), psychology, feminism, books about books and anything animal/nature related. I’ve only recently started getting into memoirs after reading two stonkingly good ones this year – I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death by Maggie O’Farrell and Educated by Tara Westover and am dipping my toes into the true crime genre after enjoying I’ll Be Gone In The Dark by Michelle McNamara.

Nonfiction doesn’t have to read like a novel for me to get something personal or moving from it – the memoirs I’ve mentioned above are a perfect example but I have to say, the O’Farrell and the Westover did have a bit of a “fiction flair,” and gave me the same sort of feeling as if I was reading a novel i.e. all the emotions and all of the pace and grittiness that you get from a captivating story. Then there’s the books that fall in the middle. They don’t necessarily read like fiction but at the same time you’re completely gripped throughout and find it difficult to put the book down.

Animal:The Autobiography Of A Female Body by Sara Pascoe for me is one of those in-between books which I read and reviewed last year and if you’re interested you can read my review HERE. It was hilariously funny, eye-opening, feminist and frank and made me angry for all the right reasons. I find it difficult to give nonfiction five stars usually as there’s almost always a certain point of the book, no matter how brief where either the pace slows or the topic becomes a little dry. This wasn’t the case with Animal, it was an easy, no-brainer of a five stars and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment.

On the other hand, a lot of the popular science I read certainly doesn’t have a story-telling or gripping “must read another page right now” style and that’s okay too – sometimes when I read a nonfiction, I want to be informed, educated and learn something a bit different and usually, I prefer to read these books in smaller chunks to absorb all the information I’m being given.

One book that pops into my mind is Stiff: The Curious Lives Of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach, which I read in my pre-blogging days but was another automatic five stars from me. It is a fascinating and occasionally humorous look at death and what happens to our bodies postmortem and was a completely fascinating and illuminating read. It’s a book filled with mind-boggling facts that I read in small doses but was written in such an approachable way that I never felt overwhelmed with the scientific aspects of the topic. I must get round to reading some more Mary Roach soon!

Hope you enjoyed reading this post and have found something you might be interested in reading too. I’d love to know your thoughts on the books I’ve mentioned so please let me know in the comments below if you’ve read them or want to read them!

Coming up next week on Nonfiction November Week 5: New to My TBR (hosted by Katie @ Doing Dewey) – the last week of Nonfiction November!


Nonfiction November Week 1: My Year In Nonfiction

Published November 2, 2018 by bibliobeth

Hello everyone and welcome to the first weekly post of Nonfiction November! If you’d like to find out what it’s all about, please see my post yesterday where I revealed my Nonfiction November TBR. The host for this week is Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness (please see her post and all the links HERE) and the topic for this week is my year in nonfiction. Here’s the discussion question for this week:

Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

Here we go!

What was your favourite nonfiction read of the year?

I think a good nonfiction book should be one that stays with you and continues to have an impact long after you’ve finished it so my answer for this will be I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death, a memoir by Maggie O’Farrell. It was a wonderful, hugely memorable read and I still continue to think about parts of it today. I actually listened to the audio version (which I also highly recommend) but received a physical copy as a gift after I had finished. I was delighted by this as it has a firm place on my favourites shelves and I will definitely be re-reading it in the traditional way in the future.

Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year?

I don’t think so, this year I have tended to stick to the topics I know I love like popular science – particularly anything that involves the brain, psychology, nature writing (especially animal-based) and feminism. However, I am open to trying new things and I’ve been particularly intrigued by the true crime genre after I read I’ll Be Gone In The Dark: On Woman’s Obsessive Search For The Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara recently this year.

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?

Apart from I Am, I Am I Am, I think I have (or would) recommend Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover (review to follow shortly) or This Is Going To Hurt: Secret Diaries of A Junior Doctor by Adam Kay which is hilariously funny and a very illuminating read on the NHS currently.

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November this year?:

I currently have two overflowing shelves of nonfiction that I’ve been woefully behind in getting to. I thought Nonfiction November was the perfect opportunity to clear some of my backlog and read some of that amazing nonfiction that I’ve been looking forward to for months (and in some cases, years!). I can’t wait to get started!

Thank you so much to Kim for hosting this week, I’ve really enjoyed taking part and looking back over my year in nonfiction so far!

Coming up next week on Nonfiction November Week 2 (hosted by Sarah’s Book Shelves) – Fiction/Nonfiction Book Pairing.

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):


This Must Be The Place – Maggie O’Farrell

Published June 11, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

The dazzling new novel from bestselling, award-winning author Maggie O’Farrell, This Must be the Place crosses time zones and continents to reveal an extraordinary portrait of a marriage.

Meet Daniel Sullivan, a man with a complicated life. A New Yorker living in the wilds of Ireland, he has children he never sees in California, a father he loathes in Brooklyn and a wife, Claudette, who is a reclusive ex-film star given to shooting at anyone who ventures up their driveway.

He is also about to find out something about a woman he lost touch with twenty years ago, and this discovery will send him off-course, far away from wife and home. Will his love for Claudette be enough to bring him back?

Maggie O’Farrell’s seventh novel is a dazzling, intimate epic about who we leave behind and who we become as we search for our place in the world.

What did I think?:

When I saw this new novel by Maggie O’Farrell on the Richard and Judy bookclub list for this summer I was thrilled. I’ve previously read and thoroughly enjoyed Instructions For A Heatwave and The Vanishing Act Of Esme Lennox by the author and have heard such great things about This Must Be The Place, as well as it being a strong contender for the Costa Award for Best Novel recently so I was highly anticipating a great read. What I got was exactly that but in entirely a different way than I had expected. It’s told from a number of different points of views (MANY of them actually!) but this never in any way feels too much or affects the flow of the narrative. It’s a real journey into the heart of a man’s life and his relationships, both past and present between his family and his lovers.

The man we are talking about is Daniel Sullivan, whom when we first meet him is living in the remote Irish countryside with his wife Claudette, a reclusive film star, her son from a previous long term relationship (which comes with its own story and issues) and their two children together. Daniel has had quite a complicated life. Before Claudette, he was married and lived in America with his wife and two children from that relationship which ended quite acrimoniously and sadly, he has very little contact with the children now although he is attempting to change that. We also learn about his past when he was younger and had a relationship with a somewhat troubled and older woman, that had its own problems and led to him making decisions that he now regrets. It is because of this particular woman in his past that has led to him making another hasty, wobbly decision to get some answers about what exactly happened to her which unfortunately, threatens his marriage in the current time with Claudette and the tenuous relationship he currently has with the other members of his family.

If I could describe this novel in one word I think I would choose the word epic. It spans so many decades of Daniel’s lives and involves such a multitude of characters that at times I can understand why it might feel quite overwhelming for some readers. Not for me, however. I loved finding out about all these different fractions of Daniel’s life, how they pieced together and how he managed to resolve (or not resolve as the case may be) certain situations in his past and present. Daniel is a fantastic character, he’s just so NORMAL with flaws and problems like everyone else but in his heart he is genuinely a good, loyal man and a great father that has had extraordinary bad luck with some of the paths he has chosen to take. It’s not just Daniel, the other characters are wonderful too, especially Claudette whose fiesty nature I adored and even some minor characters that although they appear albeit very briefly, make a huge impact on the story and give some great insights into their own lives and of course our main character’s i.e. Daniel’s mother. This may be a slow burner of a novel but my goodness it is worth it. The beautiful writing, characterisation and plot development clearly shows how hard the author has worked on it and it’s definitely one of her stand out pieces of work.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):



Talking About Instructions For A Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell with Chrissi

Published October 9, 2013 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

The stunning new novel from Costa Award winning novelist Maggie O’Farrell: a portrait of an Irish family in crisis in the legendary heatwave of 1976. It’s July 1976. In London, it hasn’t rained for months, gardens are filled with aphids, water comes from a standpipe, and Robert Riordan tells his wife Gretta that he’s going round the corner to buy a newspaper. He doesn’t come back. The search for Robert brings Gretta’s children — two estranged sisters and a brother on the brink of divorce — back home, each with different ideas as to where their father might have gone. None of them suspects that their mother might have an explanation that even now she cannot share. Maggie O’Farrell’s sixth book is the work of an outstanding novelist at the height of her powers.

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: Was the use of different points of view effective?

BETH: Definitely. Personally, I love it when we hear different points of view in a novel. It makes the story much more interesting, and allows us to understand why a particular character behaves the way he/she does. In Instructions For A Heatwave, we hear from all the siblings in turn, and gain an insight into their lives and their relationships, but I would have loved to have more time focused on the mother, Gretta, as I found her such a fascinating character.
BETH: What did you think of Gretta as a character?
CHRISSI: I found Gretta to be a larger than life character. I was surprised as I expected her to want to talk through her problems, and if I’m being a bit mean, I expected her to want sympathy from her children. I guess she got their attention by making them come home. I don’t think Greta had truly accepted what had happened.
CHRISSI: Was there enough about each character?
BETH: I think it was quite equally distributed between the siblings, Monica, Aoife and Michael but as mentioned in the previous question, I would have loved to learn more about the staunchly Irish Catholic mother Gretta, and the disappearing father Robert. Although perhaps the fact that we didn’t learn too much about him made him more aloof and mysterious as a character? I’m not sure, but it certainly was intriguing.
BETH: Discuss the relationship between all of the siblings, did this feel true compared with your own experiences as a sibling?
CHRISSI: I think the family represented in this book are a stereotypical Irish Catholic family. I think the book dealt with differences between siblings really well. There was obvious tension between the siblings, which of course, happens in families. I think as they got older and spent time apart from each other, they grew as people, and were able to come together and try to sort out their differences and move forward from it. I know from a personal point of view, sibling rivalry does definitely occur. I think as you get older, your viewpoint changes, you can reason more and feel more able to be in a position to discuss differences now they’re in the past. Of course, there are some things that happen between siblings that can’t be sorted, but I definitely thought that this book was a true reflection of what happens in families.
CHRISSI: What do you think the significance of the heatwave is?
BETH: I’m wondering if the author is trying to tell us that people do strange things in a heatwave? People always say: “Oh, it’s the heat!” to justify their behaviours at times don’t they? I am too young to remember the heatwave that the author is writing about in 1976, but I listened to an interview with the author on the Richard and Judy bookclub podcast and apparently she talked to a police detective who told her that they had a surge in missing person cases when there is hot weather… how strange!!
BETH: How did you feel Aoife’s difficulties were dealt with through the novel?
CHRISSI: I thought they were dealt with satisfactorily. However, I would’ve liked more emphasis on it, but that’s probably because I’m an educator myself, and I think it’s an important issue that should be addressed and sensitively handled.
CHRISSI: Did you guess what had happened between Monica and Aoife?
BETH: I don’t think I did. I thought it might have been a case of sibling rivalry or jealousy? Their relationship is incredibly tempestuous, but without giving anything away and looking back on the novel, we are left a trail of breadcrumbs to follow.
BETH: What did you think of the ending?
CHRISSI: Considering the amount of family drama, it all seemed to come together towards the end. I’m not sure if that’s totally believable.
Would you recommend it?:
BETH: But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):
3 Star Rating Clip Art

Richard and Judy Announce Their Autumn Reads 2013

Published September 1, 2013 by bibliobeth


Richard and Judy are back for the Autumn with eight new titles for the Book Club. I always enjoy seeing what they have to offer, and again there’s a great selection:

The Shining Girls – Lauren Beukes

Snow White Must Die – Nele Neuhaus

The Husband’s Secret – Liane Moriarty

The Twins – Saskia Sarginson

The Last Runaway – Tracy Chevalier

Never Coming Back – Tim Weaver

Heartbreak Hotel – Deborah Moggach

Instructions For A Heatwave – Maggie O’Farrell

Looking forward to digging into these, if anyone wants to join me for a read-along, they are more than welcome!