A memoir with a difference - the unputdownable story of an extraordinary woman's life in near-death experiences. Insightful, inspirational, gorgeously written, it is a book to be read at a sitting, a story you finish newly conscious of life's fragility, determined to make every heartbeat count.
Calamity: The Many Lives of Calamity Jane
"as Karen Jones sets out dismayingly early in her book, the only things that the real-life ‘Calamity Jane’ can with confidence be said to have in common with her legend is that she wore trousers, swore like a navvy and was pissed all the time..."
— The Spectator
The final chapter is one of the boldest and most terrifying things I have read this year: O’Farrell, discussing her daughter’s illnesses, becomes a kind of character from Greek tragedy, facing down death, baring her teeth at the unfairness of suffering. This is a quite remarkable book, and a lesson in empathy we sorely, yes, sorely, need at this time.
I Am, I Am, I Am is an extraordinary book. Each of O’Farrell’s experiences would be anecdote enough in their own right, but collectively they recount an extraordinary life thus far lived. The writing is beautifully restrained and all the more emotionally powerful for it.
mesmerising...O’Farrell emerges as determined, loyal, fierce and stoic; not to be messed with. She wrote I Am, I Am, I Am for her children, which does not seem like a terribly reassuring maternal act until you get to the final chapter, when it all becomes clear.
It’s pretty self-indulgent stuff, this, written in florid, some might say lyrical, prose, mostly in the present tense, sometimes in the second person, weaving to and fro in time, as is the fashion these days, to make it feel more urgent. After a while, one starts to think, “Christ, what’s she going to (not) die of this time, is this the story of her life?” The answer is clearly yes.
This is far from a conventional memoir. Rather than plot these micro-dramas chronologically, O’Farrell hopscotches across the decades, offering us a series of hugely evocative vignettes that point to multiple lives and identities. Thus, we meet her as a daughter, a student, an office worker, a mother, a wife and a traveller. We are privy to various moods and mindsets: in love, heartbroken, lonely, restless, rebellious, scared, purposeful... These snapshots, shared in extreme closeup, reveal a thoughtful and determined writer who, despite frequent trauma, remains resilient and unbowed.
This awareness — of time, luck, fate and “the feeling of having pulled my head, one more time, out of the noose” — drives O’Farrell’s story. She reminds us that we all live a hairbreadth from death. At times she shifts skillfully from first- to second-person narration as if to implore the reader to understand that there is no protection, nor order, nor safety.... In the end, this memoir is a mystical howl, a thrumming, piercing reminder of how very closely we all exist alongside what could have happened, but didn’t.