A lovely and scrupulous biography ... [Clements] absents himself entirely from the narrative, as if to counterweight his subject’s fondness for the first person, which magic-carpeted her right into the bloggy internet era, and pitches a generous tent for her ambiguities and contradictions — even her self-centeredness ... Any intriguing domestic snapshots in Jan Morris: Life From Both Sides...are crowded out by the constantly whirling carousel of her adventures. She ranged so widely and richly that questions about a certain looseness with facts, or whether her prose style changed after transition, seem almost beside the point ... This biography is a boon companion to Morris’s sprawling oeuvre, even if her complex psyche, like her physicality, might be impossible to corral.
One can’t help but feel a degree of sympathy for Clements and the challenge he has taken on here ... For all Clements’s access to Morris, however, one comes away from this book feeling no closer to her. She’s like a compelling figure seen across the square of some exotic city that you long to know more about ... At times you wonder if Clements’s tendency to veer toward minutiae...is his grasping to bring some—any—level of detail to Morris’s life. But there are random details, and then there are essential details that burn in one’s mind, and the book most springs to life when Clements leans on Morris’s own writing ... Clements’s best writing covers Morris’s early years, where he unpacks the early forces of wanderlust that formed the aspiring writer.
He begins this book with understandable, almost lawyerly care, piling up the grounded facts of an existence that aspired above all to airiness ... When it comes to the middle act, the question of how to understand Morris’s decision – as devoted husband to Elizabeth and father of four – to go to Morocco, aged 46, to take the enormous risk of gender reassignment surgery, Clements changes tone somewhat. The cause and effect chronology of the early years give way to more textured description ... Judicious, richly researched.