Book Club Discussion: I Am I Am I Am By Maggie O'farrell

Posted at 05:46am on 10th January 2020

We were nearly a full-house when my Book Club met, last night, to discuss our latest read, Maggie O'Farrell's memoirs, I AM I AM I AM: Seventeen Brushes With Death. We all thought it beautifully written, though there were those who found the theme somewhat negative, and others who wondered, at times, at the author's choice of words.

'I read the first and last chapter,' said one lady, 'and felt I couldn't read any more.'

She did, however, and 'really got into it'.

Personally, I enjoyed the episodic stories although, as we all said, they did jump about in time-frame, making it difficult, at times, to know quite where we were. And for me, the dramatic climax of that first chapter was what made the book non-put-downable.

It does seem incredible that a woman in her forties should have faced quite so many near-fatal calamities. Some, such as the near-drowning event when jumping into the sea at night, seemed to us to be the inevitable result of adolescent thrill-seeking, though we had none of us ever done likewise. Others, like the experience of being in a plane that nearly dropped out of the sky, reminded me of a similarly terrifying experience when travelling, alone, from Boston to Los Angeles - a seven or eight-hour journey in terrible weather conditions.

When it came to the matter of health consultants who both ignored and bullied her, several members of the group recalled similar incidents. Maggie's experience came about as the result of having been three days in labour, and initially being denied a caesarean. She writes, later, when being comforted by a man who took her hand in his while surgeons fought for her life, of learning about the value of touch. He taught me, with a small gesture, one of the most important things . . . kindness, intuition, touch, and that sometimes you don't even need words. This was a topic that touched us all, and that we discussed at length.

Carrying a pregnancy through to birth seemed to be a repeated problem. On another occasion, having been found to have had a 'missed miscarriage', whereby she had been carrying a dead baby within her, Maggie was given the option of having surgery, or going home to wait to see if things start naturally. Unbelievable, given the danger to herself! Losing a baby, a foetus, an embryo, a child . . . is a shock like no other, she writes. This, again, several of us recognised, one woman admitting to having never got over her miscarriage, while I felt the same about the loss of my middle daughter when her son was only a baby.

'Losing a child goes against all expectation,' said another, expressing the thoughts of all. Yet there are those who have no concept of such loss, we agreed. People who tell you you'll get over it. Others who feel that the absence of a child who has moved to another country is comparable to death.

I found Maggie's achievements absolutely amazing, given that she had had encephalitis as a child. As I know, the virus causes immobility and lack of coordination. With my eldest daughter having been diagnosed thus as a two-year-old, with a prognosis of fatality or brain damage, this, again, was something that resonated with me. Praise God, my daughter is now a normal, healthy adult. Maggie, however, is not. A claustrophobe, she had to have a CAT-scan as an eight-year-old, a horrifying experience for her, with no explanation given, nor empathy shown, and, ultimately, restraints imposed upon her body before she was pushed, screaming, once more into the tunnel.

How she endured, I do not know. Her perseverance in life and success as a best-selling novelist is remarkable. A lesson, surely, for us all. Never give up!

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