It’s difficult to review a perfect book. There is literally nothing about this memoir that could be improved upon. I could leave it there and make this a really short review… but that seems like cheating.
Maggie O’Farrell was well known for her fiction before publishing this book. She has successfully used her amazing writing skills to create a unique exploration of life, loss, memory and the human experience. I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death is one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read. Not only is her writing style and her content compelling; the angle of this book is interesting, with short chapters examining the events which happened at different times in her life (and not in chronological order, either – one of the most vital episodes, a dangerous illness when she was eight, occurs near the end of the book). It’s these ‘brushes with death’ – twists of fate, causes and effects, choices made – which support the message that life is for living, because you don’t know what may happen. Uncertainty is with us always and we have to accept that.
Some of the content is uncomfortable, even painful to read. But it’s to be expected in a memoir, because whose life doesn’t include some form of pain, tragedy, conflict, awkwardness? There’s a note at the end of my edition (Tinder Press, 2018 – Waterstones exclusive) in which the author discusses how she went from fiction to memoir. It’s fascinating, because fiction is an escape, a made-up story, but often contains elements of an author’s own life story. This makes the fiction seem more realistic to the reader.
This book is worth the hype – it’s not often I say that. I finished it two days ago and I’m still thinking about it. Usually, a book will vanish from my head as soon as I finish the story. But not this one.