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I Am, I Am, I Am
Cover of I Am, I Am, I Am
I Am, I Am, I Am
Seventeen Brushes with Death
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On seventeen occasions, Maggie O'Farrell has stared death in the face—and lived to tell the tale. In this astonishing memoir, she shares 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 from a condition that leaves her unimaginably vulnerable to life's myriad dangers. Here, O'Farrell stiches together these discrete encounters to tell the story of her entire life. In taut prose that vibrates with electricity and restrained emotion, she captures the perils running just beneath the surface, and illuminates the preciousness, beauty, and mysteries of life itself.
On seventeen occasions, Maggie O'Farrell has stared death in the face—and lived to tell the tale. In this astonishing memoir, she shares 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 from a condition that leaves her unimaginably vulnerable to life's myriad dangers. Here, O'Farrell stiches together these discrete encounters to tell the story of her entire life. In taut prose that vibrates with electricity and restrained emotion, she captures the perils running just beneath the surface, and illuminates the preciousness, beauty, and mysteries of life itself.
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Excerpts-
  • From the book

    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 into a rattling dance beside the bed. I had to pull on my uniform, leave the caravan and tiptoe down some stone steps into a deserted kitchen, where I flicked on the ovens, the coffee machines, the toasters, where I sliced five large loaves of bread, filled the kettles, folded forty paper napkins into open-petalled orchids.

    I have just turned eighteen, and I have pulled off an escape. From everything: home, school, parents, exams, the waiting for results. I have found a job, far away from everyone I know, in what is advertised as a "holistic, alternative retreat" at the base of a mountain.

    I serve breakfast, I clear away breakfast, I wipe tables, I remind guests to leave their keys. I go into the rooms, I make the beds, I change the sheets, I tidy. I pick up clothes and towels and books and shoes and essential oils and meditation mats from the floor. I learn, from the narratives inherent in possessions left strewn around the bedrooms, that people are not always what they seem. The rather sententious, exacting man who insists on a specific table, certain soap, an entirely fat-free milk has a penchant for cloud-soft cashmere socks and exuberantly patterned silk underwear. The woman who sits at dinner with her precisely buttoned blouse and lowered eyelids and growing-out perm has a nocturnal avatar who will don S&M outfits of an equestrian bent: human bridles, tiny leather saddles, a slender but vicious silver whip. The couple from London, who seem wonderingly, enviably perfect—they hold manicured hands over dinner, they take laughing walks at dusk, they show me photos of their wedding—have a room steeped in sadness, in hope, in grief. Ovulation kits clutter their bathroom shelves. Fertility drugs are stacked on their nightstands. These I don't touch, as if to impart the message, I didn't see this, I am not aware, I know nothing.

    All morning, I sift and organise and ease the lives of others. 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. I dust, I walk the corridors, trailing the vacuum cleaner behind me on a long leash. Then, around lunchtime, if I'm lucky, I have four hours before the evening shift to do whatever I want.

    So I have walked up to the lake, as I often do during my time off, and today, for some reason, I have decided to take the path right around to the other side. Why? I forget. Maybe I finished my tasks earlier that day, maybe the guests had been less untidy than usual and I'd got out of the guesthouse before time. Maybe the...

About the Author-
  • Born in Northern Ireland in 1972, MAGGIE O'FARRELL grew up in Wales and Scotland and now lives in London. She has worked as a waitress, chambermaid, bike messenger, teacher, and arts administrator, as a journalist in Hong Kong and London, and as the deputy literary editor of The Independent on Sunday. Her debut novel, After You'd Gone (2000), won a Betty Trask Award and was followed by My Lover's Lover (2002); The Distance Between Us (2004), winner of a Somerset Maugham Award; The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox (2006); The Hand That First Held Mine (2010); Costa Book Award winner Instructions for a Heatwave (2013); and, most recently, This Must Be the Place (2016). www.maggieofarrell.com
Reviews-
  • Library Journal

    September 15, 2017

    British novelist O'Farrell has won the Betty Trask, Somerset Maugham, and Costa Novel awards, so expect this memoir to grip you down to your fingertips, and that's not just a guess; the Guardian calls it extraordinary. Her brushes with death range from battling childhood encephalitis to encountering a dangerous man on a mountain path. With a 40,000-copy first printing.

    Copyright 2017 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    November 13, 2017
    British author O’Farrell (This Must Be the Place) has woven together a stunning collection of vignettes about near-death experiences in her life. She begins with a chilling tale of encountering a lone stranger during a hike up a mountain, who she later learns, after talking with the police, is a killer. Each story strikes a different tone, from the somber to the comedic. In “Lungs” she tells of taking a perilous dive off a cliff into the sea and nearly drowning when she was a teen desperate for adventure in a small Scottish seaside town in the late 1980s. Regarding these encounters with death, she writes, “They will take up residence inside you and become part of who you are, like a heart stent or a pin that holds together a broken bone.” Her most dramatic examination of the precipice between life and death is when she writes about her children. In a story that is both heartbreaking and hopeful, she tells of her daughter’s diagnosis with an immunological disorder, which left O’Farrell contemplating life’s fragility. O’Farrell’s recollections of her brushes with death are fascinating and thought-provoking.

  • Kirkus

    November 15, 2017
    A woman's striking and unexpected foray into near-death experiences.What happens to us when we near death? When the decisions we have made bring us to the moment when it might be too late to look back and change our minds? These are two of the many questions O'Farrell (This Must Be the Place, 2016, etc.) explores as she embarks in a memoiristic exercise in writing down, archiving, anthologizing, and understanding all the instances in which she almost lost her life. Written in nonchronological order, the stories are organized by body parts. For example, in "Neck: 1990," the author remembers a dark and eerie evening walking back to the cottage where she worked and stumbling upon an all-too-familiar man. "I have an instinct for the onset of violence," she writes, "I seemed to incite it in others for reasons I never quite understood." The man made her strap a pair of binoculars around her neck to watch the ducks. Nothing happened to her that night, but a different woman was later found strangled by a pair of binoculars, allegedly by the same man. The tales that follow this opener involve much more intensely medical experiences, such as the nasty strain of amoebic dysentery O'Farrell caught in China ("the amoeba was winning...I was ready to die, to abandon the fight. It was easier than staying alive") or a life-changing neurological illness that modified, at a very young age, the rest of her life. The author also tells the stories of her multiple--at times unsuccessful--pregnancies. Throughout, the narrative is compelling and visceral; O'Farrell knows how to draw in readers. Perhaps the only downside to the book's organization is that because the stories aren't in chronological order, some of them feel repetitive, as the author occasionally provides redundant context about the events in her life.An intriguing and mostly engaging collection of life-threatening stories.

    COPYRIGHT(2017) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • The New York Times Book Review "Transfixing. . . . A mystical howl, a thrumming, piercing reminder of how very closely we all exist alongside what could have happened, but didn't."
  • San Francisco Chronicle "Heartbreaking, life-affirming, beautiful. . . . Taken together, these vignettes make up a sharply intimate portrait of what it is to be a person in a body--and in particular, a female body."
  • Entertainment Weekly "A uniquely complete portrait of a life fully lived. . . . Its unconventional structure probes deep ­questions about the human condition, and it establishes a narrative that finds meaning and truth in life's chaos and randomness."
  • People Magazine "This intense, unsparing memoir is less about death than about chance, risk and the gift of another day."
  • The Wall Street Journal "A pleasure to read. And, indeed, difficult to stop reading. . . . There are echoes of Virginia Woolf not just in the rhythm of the prose but also in its dreamlike immediacy. The effect, ingeniously, is of a life told through the gaps, those near misses, on the eluding of which the rest of life hangs."
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Seventeen Brushes with Death
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