5) I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell
Maggie O’Farrell is best known as a writer of fiction, and I confess to having read none of it, though I know quite a few people who speak highly of her work. I’m not sure why this non-fiction book, about her ‘seventeen brushes with death’, appealed…but here we are.
It is, somewhat inevitably, a real mix of genuinely terrifying near-misses, narrow escapes and things that are barely brushes with death (the knife thrower at the circus stands out here); but the unifying threads of tension, the fragility of life, and how experiences affect and mould us weave into a pretty satisfying whole.
The stories that stayed with me most were the ones that bookend the collection: in the first, O’Farrell is working at a far-flung resort, and meets a strange man walking in the woods (whose strangeness, which involves hooking binocular straps round her neck, is confirmed as sinister shortly after); similarly brilliantly told is the final story about trying to get her daughter (who suffers from a severe immune disorder) to a hospital in a foreign country with no GPS or maps to help. The tension in both is as palpable and heart-racing as any thriller.
Some of the more slight stories rather fade into the background by comparison, although the odd one lingers: there’s one story about her walking with a man (an affair is hinted at?) when a dog runs towards them, and she holds the dog back from a truck that drives past…and drives past exceptionally close to her head. It’s a dark, swift, concise story which seemed to me to mark on the surface a great deal that was swimming beneath.
Anyway, his rather flew by, and the story structure means it is well-suited to commute reading. O’Farrell is a talented writer, and these are well-structured and cleverly strung together, from the title of the collection to the final six words of the last tale. Recommended, but not for the trepidatious or faint of heart!