Almost immediately after reading the last page of I Am, I Am, I Am (Maggie O’Farrell, published by Tinder Press), I felt the need to talk about it, encouraging anyone who’d listen to get a copy: I felt I had stumbled upon something unique and needed to share such a precious discovery. I'm aware that the topic might sound a bit grim but, when reading about seventeen brushes with death, what we also witness are seventeen instances where life ultimately triumphed. So, really, this is a remarkably uplifting book.
When I opened it up to the first page, I began the journey, both literally and metaphorically: I read the majority of I Am, I Am, I Am on a train that took me from Milan to Rome. As I settled into my comfy seat and my eyes started running down the lines on the pages, I allowed myself to be slowly transported across the human body by the author, just as the train quickly wound its way on the tracks, like blood pumping fast through veins. If anything, somehow this felt fitting.
Although best not to dwell on the thought for too long, the only thing that’s certain in life is death. Maggie tackles this notion head-on and relives those seemingly mundane moments when she felt its chilling shadow glide past uncomfortably close. In this intimate memoir, she takes us on a journey whose stops – chapters – are marked by those body parts that over the years have caused her numerous brushes with death.
Words are carefully picked to vividly describe those sliding-doors moments (the flight that nearly crashed, a frightening robbery, a difficult birth – just to name a few) where events eventually took the right turn but could so easily have ended tragically. A sort of poetry is injected into the horror of her experiences by such exquisite writing and beautifully crafted descriptions. Hope and despair mingle on the pages, as uncomfortably and messily as they do in real life; the author is candid in the way she opens up to her readers: unflinching, she never tries to make her stories more palatable or hide any character flaws.
In the last chapter, abruptly, the focus shifts and the protagonist changes – on the surface this is no longer about a body part, but in a way we are still reading about a piece of Maggie’s heart: her daughter is the one fighting for her life. With infinite tenderness, we are introduced to her and her story, told in the most loving way by her mother, who maintains the same steely determination that has kept her strong and courageous in the face of adversity through the years.
This book exposes our humanity in all its delicate fragility, but it is neither a sad catalogue of everything that makes us mortal nor a torturous cautionary tale on the dangers of living. With her daughter in mind, the author has written a powerful hymn to life strong enough to reach all her readers: I am, I am, I am… here, fiercely clinging to this beautiful – scary, exhilarating, imperfect, wondrous – existence.