One Life: My Mother's Story by Kate Grenville

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One Life: My Mother's Story by Kate Grenville

Category: Biography
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Kate Jones
Reviewed by Kate Jones
Summary: This memoir could so easily have become a sentimental tribute to Grenville's Mother. But somehow, the author has managed to make it so much more than that.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: February 2016
Publisher: Canongate Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1782116875

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This memoir could so easily have become a sentimental tribute to Grenville's mother. But somehow, the author has managed to make it so much more than that.

Grenville tells us right at the beginning of the book that her mother doesn't represent the sort of person biographies are usually written about, and I think this lies at the crux of the book's success for me. Her mother, Nance, was an ordinary woman born to rural working-class parents in Australia, into a time and place in which women, regardless of their intellect or upbringing, were only basically educated and expected to marry and raise families. As Grenville states Not many voices like hers are heard.

The book reads like a story throughout – probably a testimony to Grenville's day job as a fiction writer. After the first page, I actually forgot I was reading a memoir as I got further and further drawn into the world of Nance and the times she was living through. It is also a note of a good writer when you consider how much more could have been included in Nance's story, and the scenes and areas of her mother's life which Grenville has chosen to focus her writing lens on. All seems appropriately represented, and there doesn't seem to be any superfluous information, with a respectful backdrop of world events such as the Second World War, where her beloved older brother is held as a Japanese prisoner of war, and her husband's involvement in Communism.

Grenville really succeeds in bringing to life the woman who was her mother, Nance. I was actually sad to leave the life of Nance behind when I closed the book, which I read right through in two days. Right at the end, she acknowledges how daunting it was to write about the inner life of your own mother, as a woman. In fact, there are parts of the book, where Nance has a brief love affair, for example, and a scene where a young Nance considers suicide, where the material must have been tricky for a daughter to write. Mother's are, after all, sacred to their children, and what I felt was the best part of the whole book was the way Grenville really got into her mother's head and portrayed the woman rather than just the mother.

I was totally engrossed in the difficulties faced by a young woman growing up in a misogynistic time and place that seems almost alien to us today. And yet, the interesting – and sometimes saddening – aspect of Nance's experiences resounded totally with me as a woman today. In particular, her experiences of trying to balance being an intelligent, working woman, setting up her own business (twice!) and being thwarted by her difficulties with childcare and her domestic responsibilities.

Despite being much more empowered to share childcare with fathers in the 21st Century, much of the guilt over choosing to leave children with carers whilst a woman pursues a career still exist, in my experience.

Nance goes throughout her life wishing for a close and loving family, being disappointed time and again by a mother who, as she later realises, feels terrible disappointment about her own lack of opportunity. Her mother constantly splits the family by farming out the children to different schools and leaving Nance to live with strangers at the age of 7. It is clear that throughout her life, Nance struggled to understand and forgive her mother, whilst still aching for her love and closeness.

Grenville ends the story through Nance at the point that she is pregnant with herself, and provides a short and heart warming postscript at the end of the book, effectively bringing us up to date with her own memories of her mother, as well as the achievements she made once her children were grown.

The title of the book One Life reflects Nance's own reflection on life, that Your job was to live – as richly and honestly as you could – your one life. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and closed it with a deep respect of the women who came before my generation, women like Nance, who represented what a woman with spirit and intellect could achieve.

Further reading: If you enjoyed this, you might like A Fifty Year Silence by Miranda Richmond Mouillot.

Buy One Life: My Mother's Story by Kate Grenville at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy One Life: My Mother's Story by Kate Grenville at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy One Life: My Mother's Story by Kate Grenville at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy One Life: My Mother's Story by Kate Grenville at Amazon.com.


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