Review of ‘How To Fail’ by Elizabeth Day

Failure is a universal experience. We allow our failures to dominate the way we perceive ourselves. Sometimes they are not failures at all, but learning curves, or events which pave the way for success. Elizabeth Day blends memoir with self-help in this compelling, empowering book.

Based on her popular podcast, Day became interested in examining the idea of failure after facing her inability to have children and then going through a divorce, in a short space of time. Thinking about her past, she realised that from an early age her life has been a series of perceived failures. With humour and brutal honesty, she analyses her behaviour and personality, gaining wisdom from experience and reflection. In the process, she helps us to understand our own failures and look at them positively. As well as her own life, she includes examples from her friends, podcast guests and people she interviewed while she was a journalist.

I don’t normally read books from this genre, but the title appealed to me. Elizabeth Day is also a novelist, but I hadn’t encountered her books. Each chapter focuses on a particular life aspect, such as relationships, work and sport. The content and broader message is always relateable, even though the specific examples are very middle-class with a focus on people who work in the media. Day does acknowledge her privilege. She knows that to many readers, her life may seem enviable and she surely has nothing to complain about compared to what some other people go through. The point is, however, that anyone can feel like a failure regardless of their circumstances. Moreover, the more expectations others have of you and the more you are surrounded by apparently successful people, the deeper the pit of self-loathing you dig yourself into.

I think this book could help many readers from different backgrounds and life stages, but it may be most appreciated by women (as much of the experience relates to being female) and people over the age of thirty. As a trigger warning, I should mention that in the chapter ‘How to Fail at Babies’ there are graphic details about going through IVF and miscarriage. The entire book is also full of observations which will strike a chord with every reader and may bring up painful memories, but these will force you to examine your failures and see them from a different perspective.

First published in 2019 by 4th Estate.

3 thoughts on “Review of ‘How To Fail’ by Elizabeth Day”

    1. Thank you! I recommend it even for people who don’t normally read self-help books 🙂

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