I Am, I Am, I Am, by Maggie O'Farrell

A series of autobiographical stories - some short, some longer - about brushes with death.

Well, she's had some pretty astonishing experiences. Most (although not all) of the stories are about her own mortality, and there were several that I thought "this would be enough for one life": just the first chapter, where she has a close encounter with a murderer, gave me tremors.

It was somewhat of an odd experience to read: one hand the writing is really lovely and worth savouring, but on the other the stories are pretty gripping so I wanted to dash through and find out what happens. I did rewind and re-listen to certain sections and it was worth doing that just to hear the prose again.

Some bits I highlighted:

Will and I have just bought a flat in London, a red-brick end-of-terrace, with a tiny rhomboid of garden out the back. A railway line runs alongside it, trains lumbering past in obverse directions, making the walls tremble and shudderm the windowpanes rattle.
When we found it, it was semi-derelict, unused for years, the boards caving in, the Edwardian floral wallpaper slumping to the floor, the gas lamps leaking deltas of rusty red effluvia down the crumbling plaster.

She remembers a glass of water next to her sick bed, "tiny shivered bubbles pressing their faces to the glass"

She had viral encephalitis when she was a child, and nearly died -at one stage, she hears a nurse in the corridor chiding another child for being noisy:

'Hush,' she says. 'There's a little girl dying in there.'
She was so ill that she was assigned a nurse who stayed in the room with her all the time.
I surfaced one day in hospital to find a man leaning over my bed. He had wide-spaced, staring eyes, a heavy gold chain around his neck, not dissimilar to the one our neighbours’ Labrador wore, and wispy whitish hair standing out around his head. He was familiar and strange, all at the same time. [...] I recall the moment he turned to the nurse and said, ‘You can go. I’ll look after her.’ The nurse shook her head and stayed.

After her illness, she had to undergo physiotherapy, where she met a man in a wheelchair

'What happend to you?' I asked.
'Came off my motorbike, didn't I?' he said, crumpling his toffee wrapper. 'Broke my back. Severed my spine. Don't ever,' he told me, wagging a finger at me, 'get on a motorbike. If you're ever tempted, think of me.'

That brought a lump to my throat then and does again now. She says she never did get on a motorbike.

When she's having an emergency caesarean, one of the doctors(?) takes hold of her hand

There is no way he is letting go, he is telling me, entirely without words. He is going to stay right here and I am going to stay right here. I clutch at him with the force of a drowning woman. He nods, once, down at me and a grave, slow smile lifts above the edges of his surgical mask.
Later, she says
The people who teach us something retain a particularly vivid place in our memories. I'd been a parent for about ten minutes when I met the man, but he taugt me, with a small gesture, one of the most important things about the job: kindness, intuition, touch, and that sometimes you don't even need words.

I see from the Kindle "popular highlights" that I'm not the only person to be struck by this passage.

And the last chapter, and last line of the book: when I read/listened to it, I found myself saying "bloody hell!" - what an ending.

I feel that I want to read it again but I think I would read the written version rather than listen: I don't think the narrator was particularly good and there were definitely some sentences where I think she got the emphasis wrong (it would also have been better if she'd had an Irish accent). She didn't do it full justice. But since I was caught up in "what's going to happen?" it was less distracting than it might have been.

Completed : 12-Feb-2019 (audiobook)

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