Book review: In My Defence, I Have No Defence by Sinéad Stubbins

Life's imperfections and absurdities with a dash of self-deprecation.

In my Defence I Have No Defence: Catastrophes in pursuing perfection is a hilarious pick-me-up that navigates awkward encounters, cultural faux pas, imposter syndrome, and the (unattainable) desire for everyone to know we’re better than we really are. Sinéad Stubbins writes like a self-deprecating, witty friend who really gets you. Because most humans on earth are haunted by the ‘I’m not good enough’ voice, she’s speaking to all of us. Not only will you laugh out loud and nod in agreement, but you’ll also recognise the gentle truths we all need to remember from time to time. 

This is Stubbins’s first book, written in a casual, engaging tone, and it reads like a series of blog posts. The chapters are short and sharp with quippy headings and multiple sub-sections. This style is not surprising, given Stubbins has written copious film, TV, music and culture reviews for sites like Junkee, Pitchfork and The Cut, along with articles published in the more traditional mastheads of The Age, The Guardian and ELLE

The book starts with a defiant declaration that this is not a book ‘about finding yourself… It’s about having found yourself and then strategising with all the solemn concern of a moustachioed World War I battle captain (you know, one of the ones on the winning side) ways to make that self more palatable to other humans.’ And yet, by the end, Stubbins admits: ‘You can control how many times you secretly re-watch A Little Princess, but you can’t control what people think about you.’ All the pages in between these statements will show you how to get there.

If you’re the kind of person who’s stood on the sidelines, wondering what the rules of the game are and how come everyone else seems to understand them, this book is for you. If you’ve walked into an office, a café, a bar, a party – or anywhere really – convinced that everyone can see you don’t belong, this book is for you. 

Although In my Defence I have No Defence is a relatively easy read, it’s not a shallow book of frippery. There’s depth and heart and warmth throughout, and Stubbins regularly reminds us that it’s okay to be a little bit crap at things. Like not knowing what ‘cocktail dress’ means or how to do Pilates without snapping tendons or how to ride a bike or drink kombucha or whisky. 

The truth is, Stubbins needs no defence. Because she’s been courageous and honest about the insecurities and yearnings that many of us feel but don’t have the courage or insight to admit. Whether you’re an awkward millennial, a nervous Gen Xer or an anxious Gen Yer, this book will give you permission to just be who you are and to remember that pursuing perfection may result in your own special kind of catastrophe. Thanks, Sinéad, we all need to remember to embrace our imperfections and failures with humour and courage. 

In my Defence I have No Defence by Sinéad Stubbins
Publisher: Affirm Press
ISBN: 9781922419194
Format: Paperback
Pages: 288pp
Publication Date: 25 May 2021
RRP: $29.99

Vicki Renner writes across genres and audiences, from YA historical fiction to social media posts in numerous part-time roles. When she's not writing she's fundraising for conservation projects.