A childhood illness she was not expected to survive. A teenage yearning to escape that nearly ended in disaster. A terrifying encounter on a remote path. A mismanaged labour in an understaffed hospital. Shocking, electric, unforgettable, this is the extraordinary memoir from Costa Novel-Award winner and Sunday Times bestselling author Maggie O’Farrell.
In this book, Maggie O’Farrell tells you about her life in seventeen chapters, seventeen times she almost died, could have died, almost lost a loved one… “seventeen brushes with death” as the cover will tell you. Each chapter is named after the body part that caused this “almost death”.
I started reading this book yesterday evening and for a while I was convinced I was going to finish it in one sitting. And then I reached a chapter near the middle. And I had to put the book down. Let’s just say it brought up memories that I wasn’t keen on revisiting. I do not want to pretend and act like I experienced something similar because nothing in my life comes close to what Maggie O’Farrell went through. Her story triggered memories of my own pain, my own panic.
About an hour later (once I had calmed down) I sat back down and read another chapter. I put the book back down to message my friend, who’s currently pregnant, to ask her how she was doing, how her baby was doing. You see, this book transformed me into an anxious mess. It was time to call it a night.
I eventually finished this book during my lunch-break today. I flew through the last chapters. Just like I had sped through the first chapters the day before. The writing is so, so beautiful! Once I started reading, everything else just faded away.
I had to keep reminding myself that this was real, it was all fact not fiction. The beauty of this memoir is the balance. Maggie O’Farrell never asks you to pity her. She just tells you her story, the good, the bad, the ugly. Through it all, she didn’t let the bad parts get her down. She went on adventures, travelled the world, built a life for herself. She took risks (which were sometimes the cause of the ‘almost death’ and sometimes the start of something beautiful) and she always kept moving forward.
I loved getting to know her and her family. As a mother, it was difficult to read about the ‘challenges’ her daughter has to face every single day and it hurt to read about her son who suffered from severe reflux. Nowadays, reflux is something people pick up on quickly. I immediately knew that this was what was causing him to cry all the time. I understood her frustration, her exhaustion. It made me want to hug this past version of her, to tell her that it was okay, that she wasn’t alone in this. Being a parent is never easy. You always worry. You can tell that she’s doing everything she can to give her kids the life they deserve. She’s an amazing woman and I respect her immensely.
I think I ended up underlining about half of this book. Both because the writing was extraordinary and because some parts were just so relatable.
I definitely want to read some of her novels in the future. I’m so glad I finally decided to pick this one up and I highly recommend you do the same!