Review I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O’Farrell + a note on the Wellcome Prize

A little while ago, I was contacted by the lovely people over at the Wellcome Prize. I had never heard of this particular prize before (a shame, to be honest), but after gathering some more information about it, I learned that the Wellcome Prize rewards literary works that “illuminate the many ways that health, medicine and illness touch our lives”. Even though I’m not scientifically skilled, nor do I know much (or anything, for that matter) about medicine – I do love reading and learning about it. Death, whilst macabre, is a fascinating subject because our conception of it has drastically changed over the years. When I was browsing their website, I noticed that When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi was on their 2017 shortlist. If you haven’t seen me post about that particular book before, I’ll take this opportunity once more to tell you that it’s one of my favourite books and it’s a must-read for anyone, really.

This year, the Wellcome Prize is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

To celebrate the extraordinary genre of books that the prize highlights, I (along with some other amazing bloggers, which I’ll have linked at the end of this post) will be showcasing part of the breadth and depth of the books recognised by Wellcome Book Prize over the last 10 years. I had the pleasure of receiving three books off last year’s list (2018), including To Be A Machine by Mark O’Connell (winner of the 2018 Wellcome Prize), With The End in Mind by Kathryn Mannix and lastly, I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death by Maggie O’Farrell.

This last book had already caught my eye back when I was visiting Cambridge about a year ago and I stepped into Waterstone’s there. I find it a very fascinating concept to approach and write about life through “brushes with death”. It got me wondering. Does death define us so much? Does a brush with death really leave a lasting impression on life? So, naturally, the first thing I did when I received the books was read I Am, I Am, I Am. Read my short review below.

The three books I received from Wellcome Prize.

Review I Am, I Am, I Am

4 out of 5 stars for I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O’Farrell

In short but strong chapters, which each indicated a different brush with death and were titled after the area of the body these brushes took place at, O’Farrell managed to completely capture me in no time at all. Her writing is absolutely stunning and, even though the chapters are often so short, the overall product flows really well. What especially struck me was how she could describe details as incredibly personal yet universally recognizable. The titles, or rather, the various body parts the chapters are named after, make it clear to the reader that any part of the body matters when it comes to life or death.

“We are, all of us, wandering about in a state of oblivion, borrowing our time, seizing our days, escaping our fates, slipping through loopholes, unaware of when the axe may fall.”

O’Farrell took me on the journey through her life, during which I also encountered medical things that (if you’re a bit like me) usually tend to scare me away. However, she clearly but casually explains those things which makes it easy to read even if you’re not a medical genius.

To be fair, it’s kind of an odd concept to tell your life story through experiences with death, but it’s so beautifully done that it can only give you a new outlook on your own life. Almost as to say that you mustn’t take your life for granted because death can always be right around the corner. The only reason I took a star off is that I felt like some brushes with death seemed like a bit of a stretch compared to others. If you start thinking about such small things as a brush with death, your whole life could eventually just consist of these moments, which is exactly the opposite of the message that I grasped from the novel.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and I’ve definitely become even more inclined to pick up books like this (and especially, books from the Wellcome Prize).

  “I had not known, until that moment, what a lonely experience it is to be in danger.”

Lastly, I would like to add that my post is part of a larger blog tour celebrating the Wellcome Prize’s 10th anniversary, and if you’d like to see the other posts, simply check out the following banner and see where you can find them!

Check out these other blogs to celebrate Wellcome Prize’s 10th anniversary with us!

Love,

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