I Am I Am I Am by Maggie O'Farrell

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I Am I Am I Am is Maggie O’Farrell’s (fantastic) memoir of her seventeen brushes with death. It was fantastic. I just have to repeat that. But it was also an incredibly fantastic audiobook!

I read this one the way I seem to be reading/listening to some books lately: I start out in audio and then switch to the paper copy – either I’m doing that because I’ve run out of time with the audiobook, or I didn’t like the narration or I felt I was missing out on something by listening and not seeing the words in front of me. Or any other combinations of reasons for reading the print and/or listening to the audio.

But this audiobook? Oh my. Daisy Donovan is what elevated this one to beyond the 5-star rating! First of all, could you describe your brushes with death as eloquently as O’Farrell can? I know I could not. Even though I found there were some similarities in our brushes with death (hello Ms. O’Farrell – we’re kindred spirits!), and at first being a little skeptical of seventeen of them? Maggie O’Farrell brilliantly brings those brushes to life and it’s Daisy Donovan that just slams this out of the park with her narration. She took O’Farrell’s already beautifully written words and changes them to a technicolour extravaganza! I found myself leaning forward into the car’s speakers just so I could get closer to her beautiful, passionate and enthusiastic voice reading some of these harrowing experiences. She so, so very vividly brought them to life!

And the skill of transforming these (sometimes brief) brushes with death into edge-of-your-seat and descriptively stunning storytelling was an absolute gift given to us by Maggie O’Farrell.

Right out of the gate I was on the edge of my seat, leaning in listening to Donovan’s spectacular narration telling us about the lurking stranger wrapping a strap of leather around her neck in an attempt to strangle her. It was harrowing to listen to Donovan read this as though it were a tense thriller!

Each of these brushes are broken down into a part of the body that is affected. The first being entitled, “Neck”:

I am careful to use strides that are confident, purposeful, but not frightened. I am not frightened: I say this to myself, over the oceanic roar of my pulse. Perhaps, I think, I am free, perhaps I have misread the situation. Perhaps it’s perfectly normal to lie in wait for young girls on remote paths and then let them go….I do know, though, that he is right behind me. I can hear the tread his boots, the swishing movement of his trouser fabric – some kind of breathable, all-weather affair. And here he is again, falling into step beside me. He walks closely, intimately, his arm at my shoulder, the way a friend might, the way I walked home from school with classmates.

I found I needed to re-read some parts after I had just listened to them. There are two brushes with death that are around drowning or near-drownings and the descriptions of the sound of the water, the feeling of helplessness, of being pulled under, the disorientation — honestly – would you be able to describe these things in such a visceral way? It was as if we were right there with her – every sense on high alert.

In Lungs (one of the near-drowning experiences) we hear of her near-death experience with a rip-tide. This is one I especially went back to see the words because they filled with such imagery I had to see them, re-read what just had been spoken to me:

I rise and fall with the pulse of the sea. I wait, treading water between ocean and surf, letting the humpback of a wave approach, lift and release me, passing on….I am aware first of being pulled sideways, as if on a sleeper train. The current is drawing into itself, gathering together, with abrupt and decisive force. I right myself in time to see the beach pulling away from me, like disappearing theatre scenery….Behind me is a wall of water, a wave larger than any I have ever seen, it’s top just tipping over, cresting white. I don’t even have time to cry out, to shout, to call for help. I see it and, a split second later, I’m in it. It crashes over me, seizes me, it shoves me under. I’m caught, like a doll, like a puppet, in its muscle, in the eye of its storm….The noise inside a riptide is astonishing, a rushing, deafening rumble of water, air, pressure, force.

When those words are being read to you by a most beautiful, passionate, urgent voice the effect leaves you in a state of absolute awe and wonder. I was thrilled that I was listening to this amazing narration, but just as thrilled as well that I had a copy of the book to go back and see these words (Thank you Penguin Random House Canada).

This is an amazing reading experience and I highly, highly recommend the audio version! I quickly raced to search what other books Donovan has narrated and disappointingly, she’s only read a few children’s books. Someone please, please give her more books to read!

I’ve also added a pile more of O’Farrell’s novels to read – I have already listened to This Must Be the Place, but the narration there was not as thrilling as Donovan’s so it made the listening experience not as grand as I Am I Am I Am. I know I would have enjoyed this book much more had I used my eyes instead of my ears to read it.

Anyway, 5-glowing-stars for I Am, I Am, I Am. Track down the audiobook! You will not be disappointed!