Nance was a week short of her sixth birthday when she and Frank were roused out of bed in the dark and lifted into the buggy, squashed in with bedding, the cooking pots rattling around in the back, and her mother shouting back towards the house, "Good-bye, Rothsay, I hope I never see you again!"
When Kate Grenville’s mother died, she left behind many fragments of memoir. These were the starting point for One Life, the story of a woman whose life spanned a century of tumult and change. In many ways Nance’s story echoes that of many mothers and grandmothers for whom the spectacular shifts of the 20th century offered a path to new freedoms and choices.
In other ways Nance was exceptional. In an era when women were expected to have no ambitions beyond the domestic, she ran successful businesses as a registered pharmacist, laid the bricks for the family home, and discovered her husband’s secret life as a revolutionary.
©2015 Kate Grenville (P)2015 Bolinda Publishing Pty Ltd
"A few sentences of Grenville’s makes one realise that much of the writing one encounters in a novel these days is thin and perfunctory." (The Daily Express)
"One Life is a treat further enhanced by a contemplative and intimate narration." (AudioFile)
Yes. One couldn't really hear the passion without the narrator. Without a narrator, it'd be just words.
Not knowing love. And having to give up the pharmacy.
No. Some of it got long and drawn out in places.
Kate Grenville has captured the spirit of her mother, trapped in the cultural construct of Sydney in the 1950's. That spirit, determined to have a life worth living, found a way despite the barriers. The reading itself was captivating, in a tone and with empathy and love for the woman who gave her life and inspiration. I was enthralled and the book triggered so many memories of the women who allowed us, by their sacrifices, to enjoy what they could not, to have a life of choice.
"A loving and proud tribute to a remarkable mother!"
The best-selling Australian novelist Kate Grenville narrates her own life-enhancing memoir of her mother Nance which unfolds as brilliantly as one of her own novels. Being narrated by her daughter somehow involves the listener even more closely than if it were read by anyone else.
Born in 1912, Nance was Australian rural working class. At school, where there was a place for the ponies of the children who rode to school to be tied up, Nance's teacher gave her a vision of what life and words could offer. She never forgot the lines of Keats' sonnet in which he describes his own awakening on first reading Chapman's translation of Homer, feeling like 'stout Cortez when with eagle eyes / he stared at the Pacific.' Nance never forgot the words or the feeling that life was out there to be discovered.
Unusually for the time, she studied science and after long years of studying and earning enough money to keep herself, she qualified as a pharmacist. It was this rebellious toughness in Nance that Trotskyite Ken Grenville 'esteemed' in her and they married, but although Nance treasured their partnership, she found him a 'cold fish' incapable of tenderness or real love. Opening her own pharmacy - an unbelievably brave venture - was a great success but with two young boys she was forced to give it up when she found the woman hired to look after them in school holidays was locking them in a cupboard to keep them quiet. But she'd struggled long enough to make £700, enough for Ken and her to build their own house.
Memoirs are not usually unswitchoffables, but this one is. It's poignant - the death of Nance's brother as a POW in Thailand; her realisation that Ken has never loved her - and full of the details of tough domestic life before and throughout WW2. But the spirit of the whole is Nance's, this remarkable woman who gave birth to Kate ten years after her sons were born, and who after her marriage ended in her late 50s turned to the comfort of literature, declaring 'If life is the wound, Art is the healer'. Having never forgotten that sonnet of Keats, at aged 53, she enrolled for a literature course at the Sorbonne in Paris and found the treasure of words she had glimpsed all those years before!
Kate Grenville has done her mother proud in bringing alive in every fibre a woman who never thought herself special, but who most certainly was. Don't miss it.
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