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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
An extraordinary memoir—told entirely in near-death experiences—from one of Britain's bestselling novelists, for fans of Wild, When Breath Becomes Air, and The Year of Magical Thinking.
We are never closer to life than when we brush up against the possibility of death.

I Am, I Am, I Am is Maggie O'Farrell's astonishing memoir of the near-death experiences that have punctuated and defined her life. The childhood illness that left her in the hospital for nearly a year, which she was not expected to survive. A teenage yearning to escape that nearly ended in disaster. An encounter with a serial killer 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.
Seventeen discrete encounters with Maggie at different ages, in different locations, reveal a whole life in a series of tense, visceral snapshots. In taut prose that vibrates with electricity and a restrained emotion, O'Farrell captures the perils running just beneath the surface, and illuminates the preciousness, beauty and mysteries of life itself.
An extraordinary memoir—told entirely in near-death experiences—from one of Britain's bestselling novelists, for fans of Wild, When Breath Becomes Air, and The Year of Magical Thinking.
We are never closer to life than when we brush up against the possibility of death.

I Am, I Am, I Am is Maggie O'Farrell's astonishing memoir of the near-death experiences that have punctuated and defined her life. The childhood illness that left her in the hospital for nearly a year, which she was not expected to survive. A teenage yearning to escape that nearly ended in disaster. An encounter with a serial killer 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.
Seventeen discrete encounters with Maggie at different ages, in different locations, reveal a whole life in a series of tense, visceral snapshots. In taut prose that vibrates with electricity and a restrained emotion, O'Farrell 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 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 clear, sun-bright weather has lured me from my usual path.

    I have also had no reason, at this point in my...
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, arts administrator and 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), winner of the Costa Novel Award, Instructions for a Heatwave (2013) and, most recently, This Must Be the Place (2016).
Reviews-
  • 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.

  • Ann Patchett "I Am, I Am, I Am is a gripping and glorious investigation of death that leaves the reader feeling breathless, grateful and fully alive. Maggie O'Farrell is a miracle in every sense. I will never forget this book."
  • Claire Cameron "I Am, I Am, I Am opens up the vulnerability that many of us experience in life--from the potential of love and connection in childbirth to the certainty of death we all must face. With her elegant prose, O'Farrell moves us through fear to find a world full of wonder and hope. This is a bold, brave, beautiful book about embracing all that life has to offer."
  • The Sunday Times "O'Farrell emerges as determined, loyal, fierce and stoic; not to be messed with. . . . The message is that we must live in the moment, finding joy and freedom where we can, but O'Farrell writes so convincingly about peril that each episode just serves as another detailed, technicolour reminder that we and, more terrifyingly, our loved ones are only ever one bad decision, faulty choice, or sliver or ill-fortune away from catastrophe. This is a mesmerising read."
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Seventeen Brushes with Death
Maggie O'Farrell
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