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  • Writer's pictureLucie Ataya

Review: How to Fail, by Elizabeth Day

Updated: Oct 25, 2020


More than a book about failure, this is a book about resilience.


There are few books out there that make you feel love at first page. In my own life as a book lover, at least, there haven’t been so many. They’re the kind of books that make you nod in agreement with every other sentence you read. That make you want to cry out ‘me too!’ on repeat like a broken record. Books that make you feel like you aren’t so alone in your strangeness after all.

Elizabeth Day’s How to Fail was one of those for me.

The book is a memoir of all of the struggles that made Day the person she became. She talks, with disarming wit and honesty, about failures I suspect many of us out there can relate to. I certainly did. From growing up as an odd-ball and longing to fit in, to carving her career path and learning to assert herself in a professional environment that so often rewards those who speak loudest. From relationships falling apart, to her unfulfilled yearning to conceive. To life as a child-free woman in a society that still looks down upon those of us for whom, for one reason or another, motherhood wasn’t on the cards.

There is much humour in How to Fail, nuggets of lightness like random roadkill-based meal incidents and vagina steaming experiments, but the humour wraps around much heartbreak, too. As much as we giggle at the hilarity of some of her stories, we can tell there is a lot of deep rooted melancholy and sadness underneath it all.

And isn’t that what life is all about? That’s what gives the book such strength and makes it so relatable to all those of us who have ever felt left out, too different or too quiet for our own good, and who’ve given too much of our lives to what the world may or may not think of us.

Day’s candid confessions took me on an emotional rollercoaster, putting feelings, emotions and experiences into just the right words. Words which, at times, hit so close to home I had to put the book down to catch my breath.

More than a book about failure, this is a book about resilience. A wonderful journey of growth, of one woman’s blossoming, of finally coming into her own, after a detour here and there. It’s a book about acceptance - of your own self and your own uniqueness, and of the way plans don’t always turn out the way you thought. It’s a celebration of what it is to be a woman in this day and age, it redefines it into something much beyond whatever expectations and boundaries society might want to draw for us.

This is one book that made me feel. Properly, physically feel. So strongly and so intensely I forgot where I was for a while. When I came out the other way, it was with a sense of calm and quiet satisfaction, a desire and determination to look at myself more closely and make steps to become the best version of me.

True, honest, modern female empowerment. That’s the essence of this book. One that doesn’t say we have to bulldoze and kick our way through life to be heard, but one that embraces all of the nuances and vulnerabilities of what it means to be a woman in the crazy era we live in. One in which you can both be strong and a little broken, because the chinks in our armour remind us how far we’ve come, and and much further we can reach.

For those who have come across Day’s fantastic podcast How to Fail with Elizabeth Day this book will have a familiar tone and style, one that’s comforting, polished and accessible all at the same time. For the uninitiated, the book is a great introduction to the author’s work and perfect for anyone looking for a well-written, easy-flowing, heartfelt tale of how to get back up on your feet and face the world when life’s kicked you in the butt.

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