Maggie O’Farrell is a well-known Irish writer with a number of prize-winning novels to her name. In this one, she looks at the near-death experiences that have jarred her own life. She takes the title from another writer, Sylvia Plath who, in The Bell Jar, wrote: “I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.”
O’Farrell describes the man she meets on a mountain path who puts his binocular strap around her neck, but then frees her, only to turn up later in police records. O’Farrell was born with a childhood illness, encephalitis, which damaged those parts of her brain involved in movement and balance. She tells of some occasions when this caused real danger. She also had a dangerous experience in labour in an understaffed hospital and almost lost her child.
She had other children, however. One of them, a daughter, is living in permanent danger from a condition called anaphylaxis. It is a daily struggle for O’Farrell to protect her from this medical condition that leaves her vulnerable to many dangers. It is no wonder O’Farrell feels nothing is given in this life, every day is precious, every moment a gift.
Reviewed by Anne McDougall