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Summary

As selected for the Zoe Ball Bookclub, a Book of the Year in The Sunday Times, The Times, Guardian, Irish Times, Observer, Red and The Telegraph.

I Am, I Am, I Am is a memoir with a difference - the enthralling story of an extraordinary woman's life in near-death experiences. Insightful, inspirational, 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 best-selling 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?  

I Am, I Am, I Am will speak to readers who loved Cheryl Strayed's Wild or Max Porter's Grief is the Thing with Feathers.

©2017 Maggie O'Farrell (P)2017 Headline Publishing Group Ltd

What listeners say about I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death

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Exhausting

It must be ruddy exhausting being Maggie O'Farrell. From what I've learned of her in this book she is one of those people for whom normal expectations and limits are like barbed wire fencing them in. Alpha people: people who do things their own way, come what may. People who have been everywhere and seen everything by the time they are 40. People who want the best, the most exciting, the worst, the most extreme — anything but the mundane. The people who, even though they know they can't use one arm properly and have nearly drowned previously, decide to swim out to a floating platform off a beach while carrying their small child and don't, when they realise they're out of their depth, stop and turn back. I think it was that particular close-shave that made me step back and look at this book, and the author, differently.

I began thinking about issues of recklessness and privilege and self-dramatisation and the relentless me, me, me of it all. I know it's an autobiography but even so...

The really heart-breaking stuff is at the end in O'Farrell's account not of her own but of her daughter's suffering. It is horrifying, thought-provoking and something one would wish for no child or parent. As I closed the book and put it down I wondered whether it is O'Farrell's attempt to deal with the odds that are stacked against her daughter. In seeking to make her own already high-coloured and dramatic life seem even more dramatic and dangerous than it has been is she seeking to reassure herself that her daughter can survive in an infinitely more risky world than even the one O'Farrell inhabits, one where every nut and egg is a potential killer?

I see from the rave reviews that many people have enjoyed this book for what it seems to be. I am a poor swimmer, like O'Farrell. I seem to have been dragged down by the book's undercurrents.

10 people found this helpful

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'where the axe may fall'

O'Farrell’s like-no-other memoir leaves you in awe of both her frightening experiences and her brilliant writing. O'Farrell suffers from various neurological problems following a childhood illness, but as a teenager she jumps into deep water as a dare and nearly drowns because, as she well knew, she could not tell up from down. In South America a machete is held to her throat and all her travel money stolen because she and her boyfriend are in a district where travellers are warned there are armed robbers. Why does she take a 9-week old baby already raging from severe reflux (which she refused to tell the health visitor about) to rural Italy where she's left alone in a car to be rocked by thieves in their attempt to get in? She takes her 7 year-old son who can't swim on her back off the coast of Zanzibar to a post a tourist had told her was easy to reach. She finds herself in deep water and her weak arms unable to hold him. Many of these brushes with death - and there are more - seem the result of a pathological recklessness, a crazed addiction to risk, and because of this, although the experiences are terrifying, her culpability reduces your sympathy.

That is, until the later chapters when she explains the 'hinge' on which her whole life swings: as an 8-year-old she is the little girl dying from encephalitis. But she survives: she learns to walk again and do all the things which the doctors told her parents she never would. She was ALIVE and she would LIVE - the rest of her life was a massive defiant kick in the teeth for Proud Death of John Donne's poem. All the risk-taking falls into place and O'Farrell becomes truly admirable. I Am I Am I Am is understandable.

The later chapters also relate without self-pity her fearful births history - a near fatal haemorrhage following a mismanaged Caesarian and subsequent miscarriages. Also without self-pity is her detailing of daily life with her 8-year daughter who suffers from a rare immune deficiency which means that from birth she scratched her glue-dry skin to shreds and if she even goes anywhere near nuts or anywhere near where someone may have eaten nuts, she can and does fall into possibly fatal anaphylactic shock. O'Farrell's life involves heart-breaking precautions needed to keep her daughter safe for one more day. 'She IS She IS'. It tears the heart to ribbons just listening.

O'Farrell must be pleased with Daisy Donovan's beautiful narration which adds another vein to this visceral memoir. Audible is offering a free download of a to-minute interview with O'Farrell which is mainly her talking about her experiences behind her latest novel This Must Be The Place (reviewed here by me on 26th July 2016) and also provides insights into her working methods.

5 people found this helpful

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Moving, harrowing, well-written

I Am, I Am, I Am is a memoir by award-winning British author, Maggie O'Farrell. It is subtitled Seventeen Brushes With Death, and in describing these (mostly, but not exclusively, her own) experiences, O'Farrell also, of course, shares many other important moments of her life. As well as describing the situation that led to them, the physical effects they had on her and those close to her, she also notes the change in attitude they caused.

There is a deep sense of violence faced by a woman's body, which is apparent in her experiences. She describes near misses with vehicles, a mugging, juvenile encephalitis, the birth of her first child, near drownings, a knife-throwing act, dysentery-induced dehydration, and an encounter with a murderer.

The section about her miscarriages is deeply moving. She questions why it isn't discussed and why it is given little exposure. She explains how mothers end up feeling isolated because of the little care given to those who have experienced it. Her voice and pain shines through at this particular point.

As with her fiction, O'Farrell’s prose is often exquisite. This is a privileged peek into the life of an amazing author, a moving and fascinating read.

2 people found this helpful

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Tedious

I didn’t like anything about this book and had to force myself to finish listening to it

1 person found this helpful

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wow

teared up about the cat! what a powerful ending, much more than her own brushes with death.

1 person found this helpful

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Astonishing, beautiful, heart-rending

Beautifully, captivatingly, life-affirmingly written. Left me dazed. When you are listening to the last chapter, you can’t be interrupted - you won’t allow it - so make sure you are somewhere that allows for that, that gives you space to listen to the end. And don’t forget to breathe when listening to it. I think I forgot once or twice. Or held my breath without realising. Or something. And if you have ever looked after someone highly vulnerable and watched them suffer, doing everything you can think of to help, and it’s not enough, you’ll need a stiff drink nearby at the end, too.

1 person found this helpful

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Boring

I listened to hours of this book and could take no more. Ideal for the insomniac.

1 person found this helpful

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Living

Deeply personal account of life experiences and changes wrought by them. Especially with youngest child.

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Great writing

Beautifully written. Very anguishing stories to listen, but I like to “feel” something when I read. Makes you appreciate what you have and put things into perspective. Loved it

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Depressing

Enjoyed O'Farrell's Hamnet but this was, as I suppose the title says, someone going on about an illness and scrapes with death. I think we all have a friend or two who does similar and they're usually not much fun either. The narration was very good.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 04-05-18

Seldom do I want to read a book twice

What a beautifully written book - words crafted together so well and a spectacular vocabulary. Loved the pace and the tone - I am a new huge fan