Maggie O’Farrel is one of favourite authors, I adore all her books, although The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox remains my favourite. Still, I was hesitant to pick up her latest, due to the alarming tag line, seventeen brushes with death. Seventeen? That seems an alarmingly high number. I was finally prompted to begin when it was chosen as the Expat Book Club book.
I’m so glad it was, because this is a truly unique and enthralling memoir. I adored it and urge everyone to read it. Maggie O’Farrell’s seventeen brushes with death are told out of sequence, but connect together perfectly. Just as you are beginning to think she might just be supremely reckless, especially where the ocean is concerned, we go back to her childhood and discover why she might be less risk adverse than most people.
The stories are all titled with different body parts, except the very last. The first, Neck, is one of the most chilling things I have ever read. It is going to haunted me for a long time, especially when I’m out alone with the dog. While Daughter is one of the most heartbreaking. These two stories show Maggie O’Farrell at her most brilliant, pulling you inside her story and making you not just see it, but feel it, deep within you.
This is an unusual memoir, not only due to it being centred around death, but because when I’d finished I didn’t know a huge amount about Maggie O’Farrel’s external life – where she went to school, what she studied, who she married, who she knew, who her parents were, where she grew up, the usual markings of a memoir. But I felt like I knew her, she is amazingly honest throughout the book, sharing things that usually (even in our oversharing society) get tucked away into secret corners of our hearts and not spoken of to anyone.
I am so, so grateful for her honesty, because one of these stories broke me apart. I’d never heard someone articulate, so beautifully, feelings I’d experienced.
Which is why stories and story tellers are so important and why everyone deserves to see themselves and their experiences reflected in stories. There is a huge value, power, and solace, in discovering you are not the only one to have thought something or felt something. In this memoir Maggie O’Farrel shows exactly how powerful words are.