Sex and Other Changes, by David Nobbs

Nicholas and Alison have been married for fifteen years, but both have always felt something was wrong with their lives, and this is the story of how Nick becomes Nicola and Alison becomes Alan.

Well... as with any new David Nobbs book (and they're rare enough), I had very high hopes. So it's inevitable that it was, to some extent, a disappointment. It is a good book, but I don't think it's up with the best.

With Perrin, Pratt and the "Do" books, the main characters were male, but as with Going Gently, this seems to be an attempt to be more sympathetic to woman's point of view. Admittedly the gender distinction is pretty blurred here but I'm not sure there are many powerful insights into the female condition. In fact, although there are two main protagonists, they didn't seem distinctive enough to me: it felt like Nick and Alison were the same character experiencing the story from two different perspectives at the same time. Maybe this was intentional, but it felt like a bit of a missed opportunity.

There was a fair amount of space devoted to the procedure of undergoing gender reassignment, but I found this the least interesting part of the book. I guess Nobbs has done his homework so he can tell us about the sorts of questions that potential transsexuals will encounter when they see consultants, but I could have done that for myself. What I enjoyed much more was the picture painted of the other people in the story: the children, the work colleagues, and friends of Nick and Alison. While many of the episodes revolve around incidents relating to the sex-changes, the characters are so well done, and (apart from Nick and Alison) all distinctive and believable, that I'd quite happily have had a story just about the family without any sex-change stuff.

I do love reading Nobbs' books, and so probably rushed through this one too quickly this time. There were some good Nobbs-ian reflections on the importance of children, the poignancy of love, and the human condition in general, and perhaps I'd have spotted more of these if I hadn't been so keen to read the story. I look forward to reading it again, and savouring the writing more.

Completed : 02-Jan-2005

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