By Jan Morris • Read by Roy McMillan
Jan Morris, now in her nineties, is revered as a brilliant writer. As James Morris, he was a renowned foreign correspondent and his reputation barely hiccupped when he chemically and surgically changed sex in his forties, retaining the undiminished love of his wife (later civil partner), Elizabeth, as well as their four children and many of their friends. Morris’s story was challenging when Conundrum, the memoir of her sex change, was first published in 1974; this new audiobook edition, with an inspiring preface by Morris, is timely as we think more profoundly and less dogmatically about sexual identity. Morris’s insights on the nature of gender will resonate with men and women alike. She vividly describes life in a boys’ boarding school, the army, travelling the world and her quest to change sex. The prevailing mood is of serenity achieved. Roy McMillan’s lively reading conveys Morris’s native warmth and wit.
Christina Hardyment – The Times
The reissue of Jan Morris’s 1973 autobiography translates well to the audiobook medium. A well-known travel writer, Morris was one of the first people in public life to discuss her experiences as a transgender person. Roy McMillan’s narration includes authentic accents for characters of different cultures and changes in pacing that enhance the peaks and valleys of unfolding events. His timbre is only a half-range deeper than Morris’s own speaking voice, and his accent matches the author’s. A new foreword by the author, also read by McMillan, contextualizes the now dated terminology that we hear in the body of the text—for example, “transsexual” instead of “transgender.” F.M.R.G.
© AudioFile 2017, Portland, Maine
Published in 1974 Conundrum is Jan Morris’s account of her life from a four-year-old boy in a loving family convinced that unlike his older brothers he is a girl, to her full transition to a woman finally completed nearly four decades, a faithful wife and five much loved children later. Now in her nineties, she has written an insightful preface for this recording.
James Morris had a tremendously successful career as a revered journalist (reporting all over the world including in Nepal on the successful 1953 conquering of Everest), travel writer and historian, but his life as a man amongst men (and James Morris met and worked with a multitude of powerful and interesting people including Che Guevara and Adolf Eichmann ) accentuated his own deeply incised dichotomy and sense of duality. His story progresses from school with its sexual indulgences, through to marriage with Elizabeth with whom she now has a civil partnership and who was fully aware of Morris’s state of mind, the fulfilment of raising four children, the shared grief of a baby’s death, years of hormone treatment and finally the surgery in Morocco, all related with complete honesty underplaying the courage and pain involved.
What makes Conundrum such a brilliant classic apart from the biography itself is Morris’s fine intellect and superb writing. She delves into the swirling depths of her psyche as the conflicts and all-consuming drive for change are worked through. Her path through all this has been not so much sexual as spiritual. She muses on the sexual equivocations in world religions and civilisations as she moves from detestation of her male body towards achieving a form of peaceful transcendence where there is neither man nor woman. And this she does, discarding not the truth of herself, but the falsity. Joyful after her final surgery she feels ‘like a princess emancipated from her degraded disguise’. Her troubled soul has achieved serenity.
Roy McMillan reads Conundrum with totally absorbing and respectful dignity. It’s appropriate for him as he has also narrated Morris’s great historical work, the trilogy Pax Britannica (available on Audible)