Book Review: Friendaholic by Elizabeth Day

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Elizabeth’s previous books (both fiction and non fiction), and devour each episode of her ‘How To Fail’ and ‘Best Friend Therapy’ podcasts – so when I heard she had a new book out, I was delighted to be granted an advance review copy from NetGalley. Here’s the blurb:

As a society, there is a tendency to elevate romantic love. But what about friendships? Aren’t they just as – if not more – important? So why is it hard to find the right words to express what these uniquely complex bonds mean to us? In Friendaholic: Confessions of a Friendship Addict, Elizabeth Day embarks on a journey to answer these questions.
Growing up, Elizabeth wanted to make everyone like her. Lacking friends at school, she grew up to believe that quantity equalled quality. Having lots of friends meant you were loved, popular and safe. She was determined to become a Good Friend. And, in many ways, she did. But in adulthood she slowly realised that it was often to the detriment of her own boundaries and mental health.
Then, when a global pandemic hit in 2020, she was one of many who were forced to reassess what friendship really meant to them – with the crisis came a dawning realisation: her truest friends were not always the ones she had been spending most time with. Why was this? Could she rebalance it? Was there such thing as…too many friends? And was she really the friend she thought she was?
Friendaholic unpacks the significance and evolution of friendship. From exploring her own personal friendships and the distinct importance of each of them in her life, to the unique and powerful insights of others across the globe, Elizabeth asks why there isn’t yet a language that can express its crucial influence on our world.
From ghosting and frenemies to social media and seismic life events, Elizabeth leaves no stone unturned. Friendaholic is the book you buy for the people you love but it’s also the book you read to become a better friend to yourself.”

The book is a fabulous take on platonic friendship – combining Elizabeth’s own anecdotal experiences, research into the topic, interviews with friends, and other essays on friendship. It therefore gives a well rounded view of the topic – although primarily looks at the author’s own experiences.

I found it really interesting – not least because I definitely also used to subscribe to the ‘quantity equalled quality’ belief. And also, like Elizabeth, found the Covid pandemic and personal traumas (for Elizabeth her fertility journey, and for me a child with a chronic health condition) put some ‘friendships’ into question.

I enjoyed the references from a plethora of different sources – including ancient texts (my son is applying to do Classics as as degree, so I have a new found interest in ancient history from various University open days) and more recent research – which made the book feel ‘deeper’ than solely a memoir. One fact that stuck with me is that on average people change half of their friends every 7 years (something personally evidenced for me by considering the guest list for my 50th next year compared to my 40th nine years ago).

The chapter on Elizabeth’s quest to have a biological child was really moving (and was also published in The Times) and helpful about what to say – and not to say – to a friend in similar circumstances, or to be honest, any childless woman you talk to. Despite having 4 children myself – I really hope I’m not a tw*t when talking to people without children – but it did make me check my own fertility privilege.

Having listened to Elizabeth and her best friend Emma on their joint podcast ‘Best Friend Therapy’ – I really felt I could ‘hear’ their voices in the chapter where they discuss friendship together – and what a wonderful friendship they have.

As a whole, the book has really made me evaluate my current – and historic – friendships, and feel less ‘guilty’ for friends I have drifted apart from. As Elizabeth says, why should we expect friendships to be ‘forever’ – some are for different times in your life, and that’s fine – and you can remember them fondly without considering them a failure (bringing in the old ‘How To Fail’ strand of Elizabeth’s career as well!)

A lovely non fiction book – that I’d recommend to all of my friends (and ex friends, and frenemies, and social media only friends etc etc!!)

Many thanks to NetGalley, the publisher and Elizabeth for my ARC. It’s out TODAY (30 March 2023)

Book Review: Magpie by Elizabeth Day

I have historically enjoyed Elizabeth Day’s books – both fiction and non fiction. And have listened avidly to the last series of her podcast ‘How To Fail with Elizabeth Day’ – where she has a fabulously eclectic mix of guests talking about their ‘failures’. When I saw she had a new novel out – I dived on NetGalley to request a copy and was very kindly granted one. Here’s the blurb:

Sometimes Marisa gets the fanciful notion that Kate has visited the house before. She makes herself at home without any self-consciousness. She puts her toothbrush right there in the master bathroom, on the shelf next to theirs.
In Jake, Marisa has found everything she’s ever wanted. Then their new lodger Kate arrives.
Something about Kate isn’t right. Is it the way she looks at Marisa’s boyfriend? Sits too close on the sofa? Constantly asks about the baby they are trying for? Or is it all just in Marisa’s head?
After all, that’s what her Jake keeps telling her. And she trusts him – doesn’t she?
But Marisa knows something is wrong. That the woman sleeping in their house will stop at nothing to get what she wants.
Marisa just doesn’t know why.
How far will she go to find the answer – and how much is she willing to lose?

Ooh – this is GOOD! It’s not often I dole out a 5* review on NetGalley – but this is definitely a book that deserves one. It is incredibly well written, it feels like a grown up, ‘proper’ book – if that doesn’t sound too wanky?! It feels like care and attention has been made to the words and sentence structure and how it is all presented – as if it has been properly crafted and not just rushing to get the story down.

The book starts with Marisa and Jake and their new relationship. Jake is quite repressed with his emotions – but Marisa is madly in love and desperate to start a family with him. Her friend Jas is wary of it all going a bit quickly – but accepts the situation. Jake is the main breadwinner – but when a deal goes tits up he can no longer fund everything and so they get a lodger – Kate. Marisa is somewhat suspicious of Kate and her motives and feels she’s trying to get her claws into Jake as time progresses.

Then THERE IS A MASSIVE TWIST! It is brilliant. I’m not going to even hint at what it is – but it is amazing and really well written. I hate reviews that give stuff away – and so I’m not going to!

Whilst the story focusses on the 3 main characters of Marisa, Jake and Kate – the interweaving of additional characters, and back stories, is done really well. Are Jake’s parents misunderstood? Supportive? Spiteful? Downright evil?

There is also an element of infertility that is discussed in a really perceptive way. Ms Day has been very open about her own fertility journey and so this part of the storyline feels really well written and personal and consequently emotive.

I loved this book and devoured it very quickly. It’s out at the beginning of September – and I would highly recommend pre ordering it immediately.

A massive thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for the ARC.

Book Review: Failosophy: A Handbook For When Things Go Wrong by Elizabeth Day

I really enjoyed Elizabeth Day’s previous books – most recently ‘How To Fail‘ – so when I saw she had a new book out I requested a copy off NetGalley, which I was kindly granted. However, I failed (at least I was on theme!) to read this before the book came out – but I’m only a few days behind the curve!

Here’s the blurb:

“In Failosophy Elizabeth Day brings together all the lessons she has learned, from conversations with the guests on her award-winning How to Fail podcast, from stories shared with her by readers and listeners, and from her own life, and distils them into seven principles of failure.
Practical, reassuring and inspirational, these principles offer a guide through life’s rough patches. From failed exams to romantic break-ups, from career setbacks to confidence crises, from navigating anxiety to surviving loss, Failosophy recognises, and celebrates, the fact that failure connects us all. It is what makes us human.
With insights from Malcolm Gladwell, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Lemn Sissay, Frankie Bridge, Nigel Slater, Emeli Sande, Alain de Botton, Mabel, Fearne Cotton, Meera Syal, Dame Kelly Holmes, Andrew Scott and many, many more, Failosophy is the essential handbook for turning failure into success.

This is only a short book – and the sort that I would like to dip into again. I can see it would be of comfort in times of failure – or perceived failure – in your life.

It builds upon Day’s How To Fail memoir – summarising failings, and what can be learnt from them. It uses both her own life experiences, and those of the many people who’ve been guests on her ‘How To Fail With Elizabeth Day’ podcast – which I really enjoyed.

Some I empathised with more than others – failing at my 20s was definitely up there for me. I remember weeping on my 25th birthday as I was living on my own having split up from my first husband – and it just wasn’t where I expected to be mid decade. My ‘life plan’ hadn’t featured a starter marriage and divorce by my quarter century. Everything had sorted itself out by the end of my 20s – and I wouldn’t have got there without these ‘failures’ – which kind of sums up some of the book.

I found where Elizabeth talked about her own miscarriage – and a guest about the ‘failure’ of his son dying – really emotional to read, and incredibly moving.

I’d almost finished the book – but there was still over 10% left on my Kindle – so I did wonder what would make up these last pages. It is details that guests gave Elizabeth of the 3 failures they would discuss on the podcast with her. Some were incredibly detailed, others just brief bullet points, but I found this really interesting (I am totally a nosy cow, so both the content and style of how they’d written them appealed!)

As I said, I’d definitely read this again – and I think it would be a great present for a friend going through a tough time. (I am a big fan of giving books as gifts, much more edifying than flowers.)

A thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for the ARC and apologies for failing to review it before publication!!

Book Review: How To Fail by Elizabeth Day

How To Fail

My last book review was a gift off a sister – and so was this book after I put it on my birthday list (yes, I still write a birthday list at 46!!)

Here’s the blurb:

“Inspired by her hugely popular podcast, How To Fail is Elizabeth Day’s brilliantly funny, painfully honest and insightful celebration of things going wrong.
This is a book for anyone who has ever failed. Which means it’s a book for everyone.
If I have learned one thing from this shockingly beautiful venture called life, it is this: failure has taught me lessons I would never otherwise have understood. I have evolved more as a result of things going wrong than when everything seemed to be going right. Out of crisis has come clarity, and sometimes even catharsis.
Part memoir, part manifesto, and including chapters on dating, work, sport, babies, families, anger and friendship, it is based on the simple premise that understanding why we fail ultimately makes us stronger. It’s a book about learning from our mistakes and about not being afraid.

Uplifting, inspiring and rich in stories from Elizabeth’s own life, How to Fail reveals that failure is not what defines us; rather it is how we respond to it that shapes us as individuals.

Because learning how to fail is actually learning how to succeed better. And everyone needs a bit of that.”

I bloody LOVED this book.

I’d enjoyed Elizabeth Day’s novel The Party, and so had high hopes – and I was not wrong – it was great.  Some of it is definitely because we’re a similar age (actually I’m exactly the same age as her older sister) – and have some similar traits – but it was brilliant and really thought provoking.

As Ms Day has interviewed so many people for her podcast and other articles, there was lots of sharing of what celebrities would think about topics – and it felt almost like gossiping (in a nice way, as clearly all of the people interviewed had consented to it!) with a really well connected friend.

The first chapter is about Elizabeth’s life growing up – a chunk of which was in Northern Ireland.  It’s a place we’ve always visited – with family over there, and then one of my best friend’s heading to Belfast for Uni and not coming back (she married a local rather than disappearing, as I realise that might have sounded a bit sinister!)  I remember when we used to drive over as a family there were places we wouldn’t go in our English registered car – and clearly Elizabeth’s English accent marked her out as different too – something I’d never really thought about before.

Just like the author, this Elisabeth failed her first driving test too (I reversed round a corner and up the kerb……)  Having been a geeky girlie swot, it was the first thing I’d properly failed (although the B in GCSE Chemistry had felt like a failure in amongst all of the As the year before) and I didn’t like the feeling at all!  But it was a life lesson for the future.

The third chapter is about failing at your 20s.  I distinctly remember my 25th birthday, living alone in a bedsit on the edge of the red light district in Birmingham having recently split up from my first husband (second big failure time).  I was devastated – this is not how I’d imagined my mid 20s being.  In hindsight it was totally the right thing – and I then swanned off to work in Australia for a few months – without the baggage of people knowing I was a divorcee  – but it still felt like I’d failed big time.

This is turning into a confessional rather than a book review – sorry!

My mid / late 20s were then a minefield of dating.  Back then (thank goodness) there was no social media, camera phones and thus no permanent record of it!  And exactly as Elizabeth says – just when I’d decided I’d be happily single for a while, my second – and current – husband arrived on the scene…..

The failing at sport chapter includes a quote which describes me pretty much exactly.  Ms Day writes “I am an innately competitive person, which has some benefits in that it gives me monumental drive to do stuff, but it’s a trait that also manifests itself in negative ways:  I don’t like losing, and I don’t like being bad at things, especially if I can see no logical reason why I shouldn’t be good at them.” Yep – that’s me summed up right there!

A chapter I found particularly helpful was the chapter on failing at friendship.  I have a fabulous group of friends who I love very much and I know would drop everything for me in a crisis – but I’ve also experienced times when friendships I thought were for life have drifted apart.  This paragraph really resonated with me. “The challenge is taking friendship personally enough to invest your time and affection into it, but not so personally that you feel an emotional vortex when a friend goes through a different phase or wants to hang out with someone else for a while.  Most importantly:  a friend doesn’t owe you anything.  A friend has not made a commitment, has not signed a contract or walked down the aisle and promised to love you until death do you part.  A friend does not need to do anything or be anyone in order to make you feel better about yourself.  Of course, the greatest friends do this anyway, but it is not their job and you should not expect it of them,”

One chapter which I don’t have personal experience of is the failing at babies.  I recognise I’m incredibly lucky that I’ve been able to easily conceive 4 times, and give birth to 4 healthy babies.  Elizabeth writes so eloquently and emotionally about her ‘journey’ through IVF and a subsequent miscarriage.  It is still something that tends to go on behind closed doors for couples – so was a really thought provoking read.  I recently read Olive by Emma Gannon about someone who is childfree by choice – and that prompted me to think about this taboo – but those who are childless (the ‘less’ being such a painful part of the word) is also a taboo too.  Still.  In 2020.

The failing at anger chapter was another that rang very true – and again I think a lot of that is being a similar age.  To quote Ms Day, when talking about the #MeToo movement:  “It was, I think, an age thing.  I was thirty-eight at the time, and part of the sandwich generation of feminists.  We considered ourselves lucky to be standing on the shoulders of those pioneering women who fought the big legal battles again gender discrimination: for suffrage, for equal pay (ha!) and for workplace recognition.  But we also had to accept existing in an imperfect and sexist world.  We’d been raised with the societal assumption that ‘boys will be boys’ and that a bit of inappropriate behaviour on their part was par for the course.  ‘Trying it on’ was the phrase, as if sexual aggression were simply a matter of experimenting with a new look or hairstyle.”
This reminded me of an incident in the late 90s at a corporate dinner when I worked for one of the big accountancy firms.  A senior partner from the Manchester office put his hand down the back of my dress and asked ‘if everyone in the Birmingham office was as sexy?’  I didn’t feel I could be angry and kick him in the nuts or even say anything – he was in a position of power and I was a lowly trainee, so I just walked away.  Some years later he was fined a six figure sum and banned from being an accountant for a professional misdemeanour – but I have to say I was pleased!  A bit like when Al Capone was done for tax evasion – at least the baddie was done for something – but I definitely failed at being angry.

I think you can tell how much I enjoyed this book – I’ve quoted chunks, which I rarely do in reviews, but I want you all to see how great it is!

We actually discussed this book at our Zoom book club this week (like normal book club but not in the pub……..) and everyone who has read it raved about it – so it’s not just me!  I would definitely recommend it as a non fiction downstairs option #bookclubjoke #couldactuallybereadanywhere







Book Review: The Party by Elizabeth Day

The Party

I’ve been meaning to read an Elizabeth Day book for some time – as I really like her when I see her on TV – and also because as a 5 year old I aspired to be Elisabeth Day, as the boy I loved at school had that surname!!  (We coincidentally ended up working for the same accountancy firm after graduation, and he and his lovely family live in the next village to us now – but my marital aspirations towards him are no more!)

I have read rave reviews in Red Magazine and on social media about ‘The Party’ – and as it seemed that it would fit into my 2017 Reading Challenge in the category ‘A book set in two different time periods’ – I pre ordered it for my summer travelling reading.

Here’s the Amazon blurb:

“‘As the train pressed on, I realised that my life was in the process of taking a different direction, plotted according to a new constellation. Because, although I didn’t know it yet, I was about to meet Ben and nothing would ever be the same again.’
Martin Gilmour is an outsider. When he wins a scholarship to Burtonbury School, he doesn’t wear the right clothes or speak with the right kind of accent. But then he meets the dazzling, popular and wealthy Ben Fitzmaurice, and gains admission to an exclusive world. Soon Martin is enjoying tennis parties and Easter egg hunts at the Fitzmaurice family’s estate, as Ben becomes the brother he never had.
But Martin has a secret. He knows something about Ben, something he will never tell. It is a secret that will bind the two of them together for the best part of 25 years.
At Ben’s 40th birthday party, the great and the good of British society are gathering to celebrate in a haze of champagne, drugs and glamour. Amid the hundreds of guests – the politicians, the celebrities, the old-money and newly rich – Martin once again feels that disturbing pang of not-quite belonging. His wife, Lucy, has her reservations too. There is disquiet in the air. But Ben wouldn’t do anything to damage their friendship.
Would he?”

I started reading this on a transatlantic flight – and devoured it all in one sitting – foregoing all of British Airways’s film offerings – which I think says a lot about how much I enjoyed it!

The book cycles between Martin’s life growing up, Ben’s 40th party and the aftermath of it – told in turn by Martin and his wife Lucy.  It’s very intricate (which made me think how good the editor must have been as well as the author – I am such a geek!) and the pace builds up brilliantly.

It is very clever – and similarities with real life people I am sure are totally deliberate!  Boys from posh schools, going on to Oxbridge and then becoming MPs and Prime Minister and including their mates in their political inner circle – remind you of anyone?!

The university period is exactly when I was at uni – albeit not Cambridge (my Head of Sixth Form never did forgive me for not going to my Newnham interview!) – so I enjoyed the reminiscing!

Despite the clear personality defects of all of the main characters at different times, I was always rooting for Martin and Lucy – in different ways.  Lucy was initially cast as the dowdy wife – but her quick thinking smart comebacks to some of the other characters were just perfect.

I don’t want to give too much away – I hate reviews that ruin the story for others – but would definitely recommend you read this book!  And I will definitely be reading more by Ms Day – clever, sharp, well written and very enjoyable.