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. Insightful, inspirational, gorgeously written, 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?
I don’t read a lot of memoirs or autobiographical works – for whatever reason, they just don’t generally appeal. I was intrigued by Maggie O’Farrell’s I AM, I AM, I AM when it was published however, and after seeing it featured on Nicki’s Secret Library Book Blog recently (please do give Nicki a follow if you’re not already doing so – you won’t regret it!), I decided to give it a try, particularly as it helps with my goal of reading more non-fiction this year. I’m so glad I did. I love the author’s approach which, rather than going into what Holden Caulfield refers to as “all that David Copperfield kind of crap”, looks at moments of her life in which she has come a little closer to death than anyone would be comfortable with. It’s unusual, and yet these small vignettes gradually build up to give a sense of O’Farrell’s life and experiences so far.
Each chapter focusses on a different scenario, told out of sequence, which allows the reader to get to know O’Farrell a little more and to understand more about her life. These brushes with death range in scope and in how they come about. Some are medical – her childhood encephalitis, the birth of her first child going horribly wrong, amoebic dysentery while travelling. Some are due to misadventure, and others caused by the violence of others. Some of these are terrifying – particularly the first chapter in which shares her encounter on a remote mountain path with a man who O’Farrell knew – instinctively – had malicious intent. A man who went on to murder another woman some two weeks later, in worryingly similar circumstances. And infuriating, in that she tried to report the incident to the police and was summarily dismissed as nothing actually happened.
One thing that comes across throughout I AM, I AM, I AM is O’Farrell’s zest for life. She comes across as brave and while not entirely fearless, she seems to be the sort of person who won’t be held back from experiencing everything that life has to offer. I think that her experiences have also shown her – and anyone who reads this – the importance of making your voice heard. To be dismissed by the police when trying to report someone – something which may have prevented another woman’s death if taken seriously at the time – to having her concerns over childbirth dismissed by a consultant as “jumping on a celebrity bandwagon” when she enquired about a caesarean one can’t help but wonder what might have happened if she had been listened to at the time. I think that she is someone who knows when to trust her instincts and probably feels more able to make her voice heard now, and that’s a message that we can all take from this.
I AM, I AM, I AM is a fascinating account of one woman’s experiences. Heart-breaking and terrifying by turns, this sent me on the kind of emotional rollercoaster that I associate with the best novels. Highly recommended even if – like me – you’re not wholly taken with memoirs in general.