Year 5 / Book 5: I Am, I Am, I Am

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!

Score: 7.5/10

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