I like a book about friendship so snapped this up when I was emailed about it, and I know I have at least one blog reader who is going to want to know about this one. It wasn’t quite the book I was looking for and made me a little uncomfortable in places, but I did gain a couple of valuable insights. And I have finished reading (or rejecting with good reason) all my eight NetGalley books published in March!

Elizabeth Day – “Friendaholic: Confessions of a Friendship Addict”

(13 December 2022, NetGalley)

The basic premise of this book is that Day finds, during the pandemic lockdown, that her life is empty because she has lost her main interest and hobby, which for her is friendship. We quickly learn, though, that unlike most of us who missed our friends, best and otherwise, and made convoluted arrangements to get a glimpse of them during lockdown, Day has, because of difficult formative experiences in the main, over-stretched herself, taken on every friendship she can gather and failed to maintain boundaries, making herself pretty stressed and miserable as a result. She then examines friendship theories (there are decent footnotes), shares what she’s learned about herself from her inner circle and interrogates her close friends about their friendship.

She creates most of the book out of intimate portrayals of her friendships, both successful and over, and it was this I had trouble with – I can only assume the ones who were current friends gave permission and saw the text pre-publication, but what about the others, and she makes no efforts to hide or blur their identities and it’s easy to identify them; in fact one of them is someone I know slightly, and I found this uncomfortable reading.

Also, Day’s journey through infertility is covered in depth, which I wasn’t expecting, and there’s a really quite upsetting chapter about how destroyed she has been by this (which I totally understand, being childless-not-through-choice myself) and how she is always damaged and reeling when friends get pregnant / appears to bitterly resent when relationships change a bit when friends have children and she has to go to them physically. I notice that friends with children often think those of us without aren’t interested in them, and I am totally happy to go round and wade through nappies when there are smalls around, just as my lovely friends came for wobbly walks and wincy coffees with me after I had my endometriosis operation. While it’s a personal narrative there is a sort of expectation that everyone in that situation feels the same, which feels actively damaging: I don’t want any friend who’s a parent to feel they have to tiptoe round me or think I’m sitting there in seething resentment if I spot a muslin!

There are positives to the book. Although the piece on her friend who had to face a serious health issue and the re-evaluation of all her relationships felt a bit intrusive, it gave a useful report on how it feels to be the person in a friendship whose life has changed, reminding me that friends who have been struck by health issues need to feel they are contributing something to the relationship (my friends who have still provide vital having-my-back attitudes and safe spaces but maybe I’m not good enough at explaining that to them) and the chapter on the death of a friend, as well as the comments on the lack of accepted stages in friendships and the ignoring of the end of friendships as an important thing, are useful. Day makes a solid effort at representing diversity in the book, her mini-interviews on friendship covering older and younger people, LGBTQ+ and straight, and different ethnicities, as well as the friends she writes about in detail including a Black woman and a British Asian man.

This was the second quite personal, confessional book I’ve read in a row and I have to say that this overstepped the mark into the personal for me, and I preferred Katherine May‘s approach. That and my issues with the infertility sections are undoubtedly down to me and my own situation and persona, and I’m sure lots of people will enjoy this book.

Thank you to Fourth Estate for providing me with a copy of this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “Friendaholic” was published on 30 March 2023.