Summary and book reviews of I Am I Am I Am by Maggie O'Farrell

I Am I Am I Am

Seventeen Brushes with Death

by Maggie O'Farrell

I Am I Am I Am by Maggie O'Farrell X
I Am I Am I Am by Maggie O'Farrell
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  • Published:
    Feb 2018, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kate Braithwaite

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About this Book

Book Summary

An extraordinary memoir - told entirely in near-death experiences - from one of Britain's best-selling novelists, for fans of Wild, When Breath Becomes Air, and The Year of Magical Thinking.

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.

I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.
Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

NECK

1990

On the path ahead, stepping out from behind a boulder, a man appears. We are, he and I, on the far side of a dark tarn that lies hidden in the bowl-curved summit of this mountain. The sky is a milky blue above us; no vegetation grows this far up so it is just me and him, the stones and the still black water. He straddles the narrow track with both booted feet and he smiles.

I realise several things. That I passed him earlier, farther down the glen. We greeted each other, in the amiable yet brief manner of those on a country walk. That, on this remote stretch of path, there is no one near enough to hear me call. That he has been waiting for me: he has planned this whole thing, carefully, meticulously, and I have walked into his trap.

I see all this, in an instant.

This day—a day on which I nearly die—began early for me, just after dawn, my alarm clock leaping ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The title of the book comes from a passage in Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, in which a character seems to be reminding herself she's still alive. Why is this an apt title for this memoir?
  2. O'Farrell skips around in time rather than telling her stories chronologically. Why do you think she does this? What effect does it have on the reader?
  3. Why has O'Farrell had so many near-death experiences—is she merely unlucky, or does something else explain it?
  4. In "Neck," O'Farrell describes her job at a retreat: "I clear away human traces, erasing all evidence that they have eaten, slept, made love, argued, washed, worn clothes, read newspapers, shed hair and skin and bristle and blood and toenails." (page 5) Why does ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

I am I am I am, Seventeen Brushes with Death, acclaimed novelist Maggie O'Farrell's latest book, speaks to the beauty and importance of life, even at its most ordinary, by closely examining seventeen of her own personal episodes. It is an unusual format for a memoir, but one that works well. Readers may find their own memories stirred by reading O'Farrell's memoir – something else to savor along with the sage words from a writer at the peak of her powers.   (Reviewed by Kate Braithwaite).

Full Review Members Only (645 words).

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
An intriguing and mostly engaging collection of life-threatening stories.

Publishers Weekly
O'Farrell's recollections of her brushes with death are fascinating and thought-provoking.

Booklist
Starred Review. Astounding…awe-inspiring…a tour de force.

The Independent (UK)
A rich celebration of every breath O'Farrell has taken.

The Times (UK)
Where other writers may be playing with paper, O'Farrell takes up a bow and arrow and aims at the human heart.

Guardian, Book of the Month, August 2017 (UK)
Extraordinary… uncomfortable and compelling – a page turner… Fluent, poised, packed with colourful details. Her prose seems invulnerable. It has the sheen of fiction.

The Sunday Times (UK)
The message is that we must live in the moment, finding joy and freedom where we can, but O'Farrell writes so convincingly about the peril that each episode just serves as another detailed, technicolour reminder that we, and more terrifyingly, our loved ones, are only ever one bad decision, faulty choice or sliver of ill-fortune away from catastrophe. This is a mesmerising read.

New Statesman (UK)
O'Farrell has a compelling and arresting writing style that fills in a scene quickly and engagingly, to great dramatic and narrative effect… It is heady, engaging stuff – a bristling, rollercoaster of a read.

Irish Times
Electric… Astonishing… Should be read by everyone… Affecting: wise, terrifying, vital and important… I can count on one hand the books that made me cry and still have two fingers spare. I Am, I Am, I Am is one of them.

Author Blurb Ann Patchett
I Am, I Am, I Am is a gripping and glorious investigation of death that leaves the reader feeling breathless, grateful, and fully alive. Maggie O'Farrell is a miracle in every sense. I will never forget this book.

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Beyond the Book

Maggie O'Farrell – Life & Books

Maggie O'Farrell was born in Northern Ireland in 1972 and grew up in various locations across Wales and Scotland. When she was just eight she contracted encephalitis, an experience she describes in a chapter called "Cerebellum (1980)" in her memoir, I Am I Am I Am. The illness did long term damage, leaving her physically weak and sometimes unstable, and likely brought on neurological traits of unease, oversensitivity and dissatisfaction.

Despite this major childhood trauma, O'Farrell returned to school and attended Cambridge University, studying English before embarking on a career as a journalist. She published her debut, After You'd Gone, in 2000, and is now the author of seven highly acclaimed novels.

In her memoir, I Am I Am I Am...

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