The Sunday Times: How to Fail by Elizabeth Day review — even divorce has a bright side

Elizabeth Day’s immensely popular How to Fail podcast is a fascinating, thoughtful, honest, often moving series of interviews with successful people about the moments when their lives went wrong. It is a “celebration” not just of failure, but of learning through mistakes. So, Gina Miller shared with Day not her achievement in taking the government to court over Brexit, but how she failed her law degree. The novelist Sebastian Faulks spoke about his experience of depression, and Radio 4’s Mishal Husain talked about not landing her perfect job. Capitalising on the podcast, this memoir-style book weaves Day’s thoughts on moments of “failure” in her own life into the stories others shared with her in interviews.

It is an entertaining read that mixes confession with interview excerpts. She explores what she learnt from her inability to fit in at school, for instance, alongside Mad Men actress Christina Hendrick’s revelations about her teenage misfit years. She shares her dating disasters with Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who later turned hers into material for Fleabag, her Bafta-winning television show. And she compares her writing career, which only flourished after she left full-time journalism, with that of Dolly Alderton, who found her writing voice after being let go from a TV production job.

In every upset, Day finds potential. In her ineptitude at sport, which sits alongside David Baddiel’s “failure” to become a professional footballer, she learns about not judging yourself. Exploring the “failure of families” through people such as Tara Westover, whose memoir Educated chronicled her life growing up with abusive, survivalist Mormon parents, Day sees an opportunity to gain a new perspective on life. Even her divorce in her thirties has an upside: selling her wedding dress also funds her podcast.


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