Book Review: The First Time I Thought I Was Dying by Sarah Walker

About the Book:

A dazzling collection of essays that unpacks our unruly bodies and minds and questions why we are taught to fear and punish them, from an exciting and award-winning new author.

We live in a world that expects us to be constantly in control of ourselves. Our bodies and minds, though, have other ideas.

In this striking debut, artist and writer Sarah Walker wrestles with the awkward spaces where anatomy meets society: body image and Photoshop, phobias and religion, sex scenes and onstage violence, death and grief. Her luminous writing is at once specific and universal as she mines the limits of anxiety, intimacy and control.

Sharp-witted and poignant, this collection of essays explores our unruly bodies and asks how we might learn to embrace our own chaos.

Published by UQP
Released 3rd August 2021

My Thoughts:

If more people wrote essay collections instead of memoirs, I would read a lot more non-fiction. This was such a good book. I started off reading it with the intention of knocking off one essay over breakfast each day, continuing on everyday until I finished. One turned into two and then three and breakfast just stretched on and on.

‘My friend Luc calls the internalised misogyny that forces women to police their own bodies the ‘self-hatriarchy’. To recognise it is to learn to defy it. A body that acknowledges and delights in its own complexity is hard to market to. To let hair grow, to cease to obsess about the smells produced by the many holes and crevices of the self: this is to become resistant to the power of advertising that grows fat on shame. Between the twin dysfunctions of paranoia and ill health, there is a middle ground, a faith in the power of allowing the body to be bodily, of allowing what is revolting to be a part of what makes us human.’

There were so many moments of insight throughout this book, and so many times something resonated. As a parent of older teenagers, there were particular essays that gave me a point of view into something that I have not been able to get a bead on until now. But my appreciation was not limited to what I could glean as a parent. On a personal level, I found much to contemplate. It was also rather nice to discover that someone else thinks about the things that I do. Dealing with many topics that include grief, self image, self harm, mental illness, family relations, sex, fear, theatre, photography, death, illness, bodily functions, art, and honestly, so much more. Each essay is themed but also covers an array of topics, plus, each one is prefaced with a photo that aligns with the theme at hand – the author is a photographer, so I liked this blending of artistic mediums.

‘The dead never change, but the living do. In every second, we change. That is our burden and our gift.’

The First Time I Thought I Was Dying has wide appeal but is also a challenging read – yet in a good way. In the way that flexes your senses, stretches your mind, and ignites your emotions. One might go so far as to say that the collection as a whole is its own work of art. A stunning debut that I highly recommend.


Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy.

5 thoughts on “Book Review: The First Time I Thought I Was Dying by Sarah Walker

  1. Pingback: History Memoir and Biography Round Up : August 2021 | Australian Women Writers Challenge Blog

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