February 01

One Life (My Mother’s Story) by Kate Grenville

This is the story of Nance Russell – Kate Grenville’s much adored mother who died in 2002.  Grenville wrote this memoir of Nance’s life based on notes, diary entries and letters she found years after her death.  She writes “My mother wasn’t the sort of person biographies are usually written about….Just the same, I think her story is worth telling.”

Having read it, I think I agree.  Nance’s story is an inspiring one of an intelligent, progressive and brave woman making her way through a tough time in Australian history. With limited opportunities for education, work and support she did things her contemporaries didn’t and created a life for herself far and away from the life her parents had given her.

Now I’m no Kate Grenville, but I’ve also written a book based on one of my parent’s life story.  I wrote it not long before my father died because I wanted to help him document his wonderful life for my children and their children to come.  I also wrote it because I felt that if I didn’t, his “one life” would be lost forever.

I can’t help but make comparisons with this book.  Putting aside my occasional confusion about whether it was written as a biography or a fictionalised memoir, I think this is a wonderful story and a wonderful read.

But life is full of wonderful stories.

In my opinion, what separates this memoir from so many others (including basic ones like mine) is the postscript.  That is the soft, honest and tender part where Kate Grenville gives us a glimpse into how her mother’s life influenced hers and what motivated her to capture her story.  It is also the part that brought a tear to my eye and pulled the whole thing together.  Dammit I should have thought to write a postscript in my father’s book.

And that is my 2 cents worth.

Note – I haven’t worried about including a background on Kate Grenville in this review because I take for granted that everyone knows and loves her like I do.  She is the author of some of Australia’s most important and celebrated books including Lilian’s Story and The Secret River; which just happens to be one of my favourite books of all time.  When I think of Kate Grenville I think of gum trees.