Review

Shelf Help: Leap Year by Helen Russell

December 14th 2016 / Anna Hunter

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Are you the indecisive type? The decision to pick up this book could change all of that. For self-help with a sense of humour, it’s a no-brainer…

This time of year is peak ‘self-help’ season- from tidying to dating to spiralizing, there’s a tome out there promising to change your life, slim your thighs and help you to achieve that coveted ‘work-life’ balance. I don’t know about you, but none of the above have ever really caught on for me, and the ‘holier than thou’ tone of many a self-help book makes me scoff rather than shift my mindset or whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing. Rather than shouty self-help, the only way I can see myself being persuaded to change my ways is via some very persuasive, witty, relatable convincing from those who’ve been there. Enter Helen Russell.

When Russell’s latest book, Leap Year, sprang onto my radar, I had a feeling that this was the kind of counsel I could take lying down, likely with wine and crisps in hand. Having sniggered my way through Helen’s previous book, The Year of Living Danishly (have a gander for a refreshingly hilarious take on the hygge trend), I had a high hopes for her literary quest to become more decisive and open to change, mainly because while I may make quick and efficient decisions at work for the most part, choosing a variety of yogurt to buy can induce a crisis in the Waitrose aisles (first-world decision example). Helen’s generally laid back attitude and piss-taking makes me feel that she’s my ‘people’, and her aversion to business jargon, overly earnest experts and general keen bean behaviour is both funny, appealing and in line with how most of us feel at work, at home or going about our daily business from time to time.

The key decision in the book relates to Russell’s decision, along with her husband’s, on whether to move back to the UK from their temporary home in rural Denmark. Rather than focus on the move, however, Russell opens up the conversation to take on decisiveness and resultant success in all aspects of life, from work to relationships to wellbeing and finances. Along the way we meet such characters as Head Girl, Table Flipper and Mr Dance (don’t ask) and her quest to become a slick decision-maker takes in many activities, from creating spider diagrams ‘on acid’ to striking superhero power poses during meetings to establish gravitas.

She approaches challenges and exercises set by career, relationship and health specialists with healthy sprinklings of salt, yet still seeing them through and learning useful lessons along the way, convinced throughout that her dog is looking down on her. Ultimately what’s so compelling about Leap Year is that Helen’s internal monologue and external conduct is the real deal- she forgets her own anniversary, is highly suspicious of ‘perfect’ people and regularly chooses cake over decision-making, which most of us can identify with. Russell furnishes the reader with fascinating studies, stats, knowledge and expert advice, but serves up wisdom on a less-than-shiny platter of playfulness and authenticity, that probably hasn’t ever been through the dishwasher, and that’s okay. If a good hoot with a side order of oh-so-subtle self-help is your cup of tea, Leap Year should replace Lean In in your reading list. I don’t recall Sheryl ever recommending line-dancing for professional development…

Leap Year by Helen Russell is published on Thursday 15th December by Two Roads

Curious about living ‘Danishly’? Here’s the jist of it…

Follow Helen on Twitter @MsHelenRussell and Anna on Instagram @annyhunter


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