I enjoy reading memoirs about transgender people and particularly meaty ones that are written from the heart. A Strange Life by Adrienne Nash is an account that integrates a tale of lost and unrequited love into a story about a sex change. It also offers a bonus by providing a running narrative about how the author dealt with her sexual identity. I was particularly looking forward to reading A Strange Life in view of how much I had just enjoyed reading part one of Nash's serialized novel Trudi.
The big problem with this memoir, though, is that I found it lacked balance. There is just too much detail about the agony of one particular exceptionally co-dependent relationship, and not quite enough about the author’s sex change and the problems endemic therein. We’ve all had some relationships that we rather regret, I’m sure, and they were very painful at the time. I don’t want to display a lack of compassion here, but ok, let’s move on. It went on endlessly with such an "over-the-top" glorification of this unfulfilled love affair. I could also have done without the entire first third of the book where the author describes her rather uneventful and bland youth in England with very little reference to her budding gender dysphoria. And I also found the description of her years as a junior banking officer in Africa to be not very interesting or germane to her transition story.
Although this book does have some strong points and is generally very well written, I found it to be rather long, drawn out, and ultra wordy. However, there are some very excellent dialectics about the difference between the imperatives to transition versus the idea that it is a choice to do so. There are some other important and interesting insights concerning gender identity and transition. These are probably the book’s saving grace. It’s sad, because the author has obviously labored hard and put in many hours of writing and editing time to produce a “run-of-the-mill” memoir that attempts to focus on too big a picture in summarizing 60 years of her life while often drilling down to describe the smallest events in the most microscopic detail.
I must also say that I experienced the author to be a bit of a “curmudgeon” as evidenced by some of her observations about unruly children and other aspects of modern society that have evolved to her dissatisfaction over the years. I was tempted to put this book down several times and move on, but it always held the promise of an improvement that just never seemed to come.
[Reviewed by Samuel]