“One Life: My Mother’s Story” by Kate Grenville

onelifeI have had this book on my “to read” shelf since it came out earlier in the year, and finally got around to reading it.

Kate Grenville is well-known to people as the author of novels such as “The Secret River” which was made into a mini-series, as well as “Sarah Thornhill”, “The Lieutenant” and “Lilian’s Story”.

This book came about after Kate’s mother, Nance Russell, died and Kate found fragments of a memoir her mother had written. Nance had always intended, it seems, to write her story. Kate Grenville has taken these fragments and woven a beautiful story.

Grenville writes that, “She knew that in fact there’s no such thing as an ‘ordinary’ life – everyone’s life, no matter how undramatic in the eyes of the world, is full of dramas. There are the dramas of griefs and joys, of difficulties overcome or succumbed to, and most of all the drama of choice.   What’s significant about a life is not so much what happened, as what you did with the choices that you had.”

Nance was born at a time when options for women and opportunities for people without a certain background were limited. Nance’s upbringing in Sydney and Tamworth and farming communities was marked by the frustration and bitterness which affected her mother, an intelligent woman with an independent spirit who had not been allowed to continue her education but married and entered into a very unhappy marriage. This is a book of the century that was; Nance experienced the Depression, war, and major social, political and cultural. Through it all, there is a vivid and engaging picture of Australia as the country moved through these changes.

Kate Grenville has skilfully captured her mother’s voice, through all the ups and downs of her life. An intelligent, resilient and pragmatic woman, she became a pharmacist, and had two businesses at a time when it was unheard of for married women with children to work. Nance married and when that did not turn out as she hoped, she weighed things up and made a considered decision to stay. She imparted in her children a deep gratitude and love for the mother she was to them. Nance completed a degree in her fifties, entering a new profession late in life – remarkable for someone whose schooling had been so fragmented with multiple house moves and unsupportive parents.

This is a rich and lively work.

(This is a link to Kate Grenville’s web site: http://kategrenville.com/)



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