Jan Morris has succeeded in most facets of her life. Soldier. Journalist. Travel writer. She has trekked across the globe for well over fifty years, writing with an uncanny ability to draw audiences into her personal world. Now, as a nonagenarian, she is embarking on a new chapter—staying at home in Wales, which she has chronicled in a series of essays over 188 days. She writes about anything that comes to mind. Sheep. Cars. Music. Whatever she thinks of that day.
Thought diaries are not a new medium, but they’re rarely written by people with voices as strong as Jan Morris. She writes with the type of confidence that can perhaps only come with age. It’s not so much that she her opinions have hardened over time, but rather, she’s willing to look at the current evolution of her life in a way that only someone who has lived past 90 can.
She does repeat herself somewhat, as most typically do in their personal diaries. Be prepared for repeated considerations of patriotism, agnosticism, Welshness, and the odious decline of Britain. However, there’s plenty of originality even in duplicate themes, and she’s crafty in constantly taking her musings in unexpected turns. In one essay, she reflects on a sudden thought about throwing her breakfast tray. It’s a simple daydream, but by the end she’s pivoted to a metaphor on aging. It’s both unexpected and beautiful.
To keep a work spanning across a year fresh, Morris pulls from both deep self-analysis as well as examinations on current events. Mostly, this works, but she occasionally slides into problematic territory. The essay concerning her prejudices against overweight individuals is embarrassingly bad. It serves no purpose. Although she admits shame for having this opinion, her introspection rings hollow. Later, she laments some recent claims of sexual harassment, suggesting similar actions would have been considered playful a half century ago. Somehow, she has kinder words for sexual abusers than she does for overweight people. These sections are glaring, and the entire book would be stronger without them.
But then, this is a diary. And when a reader chooses to open someone’s diary, they have to accept the good and the bad, the beauty and the bumps. Fortunately, Morris’s thoughts more often than not read like refreshingly breezy contemplations.
Title: In My Mind’s Eye
Author: Jan Morris
Publication Date: January 01, 2019
Classification: Nonfiction, Essays
Note: I received a free ARC of this book through Edelweiss.