Never has the past been more present that in Maggie O’Farrell’s captivating memoir I Am, I Am, I Am. Time can erase the sense of immediacy, but from the opening I was engrossed, more than that. I felt a jolt of fear, I was apprehensive, and for a brief second I forgot that I was reading a memoir. Surely that first encounter with death was more at home in a thriller, or the opening of a dark crime novel, surely that sort of thing didn’t happen in real life. It’s not a spoiler to say that O’Farrell survives the ordeal, and the next and the next, but for that fraction of a second I wondered whether she would.
To say the least, it’s an engaging read. Compiling a person’s history not through their life experiences but through their brushes with death is an interesting idea. Seventeen seems high, almost improbable but by the end of I Am, I Am, I Am it didn’t seem so far-fetched. Because those times when an illness became a little more serious than usual, when you stepped out into the road without checking, when someone thought they knew better, when you were in the wrong place at the wrong time and some primitive part of you sensed danger, they could all have been potentially fatal. It’s not something we often like to reflect on, those ‘what if’ moments, but O’Farrell brings them to the forefront of this memoir, demonstrating their impact and the role they play in shaping our lives.
O’Farrell writes in beautiful, reflective prose. She offers up her experiences to the reader frankly, without sensationalising detail. And we do get to know her through these seventeen incidents, from the viral illness that affected her as a child to the run-in with a armed thief while travelling. We see her strength, determination and despair.
You might not be particularly spiritual or religious, but I Am, I Am, I Am makes you appreciate what a miracle it is to be alive.