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: Goodbye, 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 twentieth 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.
One Life is an act of great imaginative sympathy, a daughter’s intimate account of the patterns in her mother’s life. It is a deeply moving homage by one of Australia’s finest writers.
We enjoyed most of this story, but there was a lot of repetition about some aspects, such as her life as an apprentice at the shop, family issues, which boy to pursue and some of the politics.
We thought the writing style was a bit unsophisticated but think that Kate Grenville was trying to express things using her mother’s voice and expressions since it was her mother’s story.
The second half of the book dragged a bit and we couldn’t understand her reaction on finding out about her husband’s affair since she’d had one herself with their good friend.
It showed how hard it was for women in unhappy marriages to leave when they had children and no way of supporting themselves.
Overall, we thought it showed how far the role of women has come in the workforce. We had never considered the challenges faced around childcare in a time when there was nothing established outside family help. She certainly had courage setting up her businesses and helping to build the house. Nance was an impressive woman for her time.
Wishing readers happy summer reading, from the Dundas Readers.
Group Rating 7/10