Friday 24 November 2017

Staring death squarely in the face

Memoir: I AM, I AM, I AM, Maggie O'Farrell, Tinder Press, €16.99

I AM, I AM, I AM by Maggie O'Farrell
I AM, I AM, I AM by Maggie O'Farrell

Margaret Madden

The Costa award-winning author, Maggie O'Farrell, has delighted readers for almost two decades with seven bestselling novels, including The Hand That First Held Mine, Instructions For A Heatwave and This Must Be the Place.

This memoir takes us on a very personal journey as she details her 17 brushes with death, told with searing honesty. The opening chapter tells of how she narrowly avoids strangulation on a working holiday, aged 18: a lone walker follows her on a pathway and she senses danger. He wraps his binocular straps around her neck. "I knew what came next. I could smell it. I could almost see it there, thickening and glittering in the air between us." She manages to distract her attacker. Weeks later, she learns the same man has murdered another young girl.

The memoir is written with clear and concise prose, lending an authentic voice to each story. Not told chronologically, or in order of 'importance', the re-telling is an overall glimpse at a series of traumatic events; a terrifying mid-air emergency on a long-haul flight; a machete to the neck in Chile; a long-term hospital stay as an eight-year old: "When you are a child, no one tells you that you are going to die. You have to work it out for yourself."

O'Farrell's daughter suffers from an immune disease resulting in terrifying allergic reactions that can require immediate medical intervention. The graveness of her situation is detailed in the tale of a frantic search for a hospital in Italy: "We have the vaguest sense that we are somewhere on the Lazio border, but there is no phone signal. Life is slipping from my child with every passing second."

These stories examine the strength of a parent's love in the face of tragedy and the darker side of human nature that exists side-by-side with inherent goodness. O'Farrell's memoir reminds us that we shall all face death, but how we deal with it may make all the difference. A powerful read.

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