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One Life: My Mother's Story
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One Life: My Mother's Story

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  1,490 ratings  ·  147 reviews
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
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published March 25th 2015 by Text Publishing (first published March 18th 2015)
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Average rating 4.04  · 
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 ·  1,490 ratings  ·  147 reviews

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Dale Harcombe
Mar 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
Four and a half stars.
Kate Grenville has not only written a lovely tribute to her mother, she has given us a picture of how society and the role of women have changed over the intervening years. This is so much more than a story about Nance Isobel Gee. It shows us once again why Kate Grenville is such an esteemed writer. There is nothing boring about the story of the beautiful prose that really makes the reader hear and see the scene being described. And it starts right from the beginning where
Oct 22, 2015 rated it it was ok
Kate Grenville is one of Australia's best-known authors, most well known for her novel The Secret River. Enjoying biographies, I thought I would give this a try. It was just OK for me, so two stars. I will explain why.

Kate writes about her mother, Nance (1912-2006). Actually the book only covers her first 40 years, up to the birth of her last child, the author. The second half of her life is only rapidly summarized in an epilogue, and it is worthy to note that important life changing events occ
Jeanette (Ms. Feisty)
This is written in a simple yet elegant style that makes it a pleasure to read.

Nance Russell was a remarkable woman, making a life for herself in the early 20th century in Australia. Her accomplishments are all the more impressive to me because she received so little encouragement from her family and society. Her parents treated her like she didn't matter while she was growing up, then denied her the right to choose her own career. She made the very best of the career they chose for her, becomi
Jan 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
“It was different for Nance. She wasn’t dependent on a man. In fact, she thought that might be part of the problem. She’d been running her own life for so long, she was used to shaping things as she wanted…….She was like those girls who learned to dance with other girls, taking turns to be the man. They never got the hang of following, once they knew what it was like to lead.”

One Life is a biography of Nance Isobel Gee, written by her daughter, popular Australian author, Kate Grenville. Nance wa
Mar 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Nance Russell was a woman ahead of her time. She definitely stretched society's boundaries of what a woman's role should be. I so enjoyed reading Grenville's tribute to her Mother for that is what it is. Again another example of an ordinary person living an extraordinary life. The themes here of joy, heartache, lost opportunities, sacrifices are themes we can all relate to. Reading this I had to keep reminding myself that it was Grenville's own parents, her own family she was writing about. She ...more
Chiro Pipashito T H
Jan 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Australian author Kate Grenville writes about her mother. After her mother died, the author discovered fragments of her memoir from which she wrote this book.

Nance was not someone a biographer or a historian would be interested in but her life reflects a period when Australia and New Zealand were the only two countries in the world where women could vote, women's salary was half that of men's, there was no organised child care and only form of contraception was abstinence.

Despite all odds, Nanc
Sue Gerhardt Griffiths
Oct 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook, 2019-books
4.5 stars

I enjoyed listening to Kate Grenville recount her mother’s life story. An ‘ordinary’ woman living an extraordinary life. Always fascinating learning about other people’s lives.
Michael Livingston
Mar 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
4.5 stars. A lovely biography of the author's mother, telling the story of an amazing woman who lived a remarkable but unheralded life. Grenville is, as always, fluent and easy to read - a writer who doesn't need showy sentences to demonstrate her gifts. The story is told with love and honesty and, alongside its obvious topic, unpacks the dreadful challenges put in front of women throughout the twentieth century. ...more
Jennifer (JC-S)
‘After my mother died in 2002 it took me a few years to get out all the papers she’d left and look through them.’

Those of us who are not related or part of Nance Gee (née Russell)’s circle of friends and acquaintances, would not have heard of her, except for the fact that she was Kate Grenville’s mother. And Kate, using the fragments of memoir that Nance left behind, has given us Nance’s story.

Nance Isobel Russell (1912-2002) was born into a rapidly changing world. By the time she was thirty-th
This is the story of Australian author Kate Grenville’s mother, Nance’s life. Like many people at that time, Nance had a difficult childhood and this continued into her adult years, working in a job she didn’t really like and married to a man she didn’t love and who didn’t love her.

I admired her courage greatly - she worked in pharmacy at a time when it was unusual for women to work as pharmacists, she returned to pharmacy work periodically after having children which was even more unusual and s
Nov 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed the writing and the insight into a bit of every day Australian life from early to the middle of the 20th century.
Added since my original review:
Having read a few other ambivalent reviews, I now feel less apologetic about not being in love with this book. Because of Kate Grenville's status in Australian literature AND the many glowing reviews, I was worried that I might have missed something. However, I now know that I'm not alone in feeling that there was an emotional coldness to the way the story was told -- a coldness that was exacerbated by Kate G's brisk reading of the audio book version.

I'm with @Chr
Jun 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
In this excellently written memoir of her mother, Kate Grenville does more than narrate eloquently and sympathetically the story of one woman’s life. She also gives the reader a vivid portrait of a time and place in Australia’s history that really brings it to life. Nance was born in 1912 and didn’t die until 2002 so her life spans a tumultuous and fast-changing century. She was a quiet but determined young woman who managed to not only build a home and family but to also forge a professional li ...more
Mar 12, 2016 rated it liked it
I love Kate's writing and perhaps that's a clue to why I didn't engage with this as much as I thought I would, I didn't enjoy her narration. It was too flat, too clinical. ...more
Carole Hazell
Apr 20, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: bookclub-books
This was a Bookclub book; I was very interested to read it, the subject matter intrigued me. But I found the writing lacked emotion & feeling for the characters, who in fact seemed very one dimensional, in spite of the fact that they are related to the author.
The author states at the beginning that it was as a result of reading through ner mother's personal papers that she decided to tell her story. The problem with this seems to be that, as a result, we have a chronology but not a full story.
Nene Davies
Jan 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
A lovely tribute to a remarkable woman, One Life: My Mother's Story not only gives us a fascinating glimpse of an Australia so different from today, it's a beautifully written book about Nance herself. Her strength, kindness and love of learning shine through all the difficulties of her life and I found myself wishing I could have actually met her. I'm sure I'll read this book again; both Nance and her daughter Kate are truly inspirational. ...more
Ruth Bonetti
May 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
What a life! Kate Grenville's memoir chronicles the extraordinary near-century her mother forged. This book is a reminder that we must be grateful for the opportunities that we talk for granted and which past generations fought for. And as usual, Kate Grenville involves readers in the journey. ...more
Aug 25, 2015 rated it liked it
A fascinating account of a woman's life told by her daughter which captures the frustrations and challenges faced by my own mother's generation. I was disappointed that it ended part way through her life and without giving us any idea of how she resolved her unsatisfactory marriage. ...more
Jul 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks
A delightful insight into the potential of one woman, and the way she made the best of the life she was given.
May 04, 2015 rated it liked it
I'm writing this while about 2/3rds of the way through the audiobook. Before I say anything else about it I want to emphasise that I'm really enjoying the way this book is gently guiding me through its answer to the question: what makes us who we are? It's truly incredible to witness the societal changes that this one life lives through. And this one life has many experiences that provide a platform for exploring these changes intimately and in ways I'd never considered before. For example the r ...more
I really enjoyed the reflectiveness in the postscript, especially these gems:
"What other people did was up to them. Your job was to live - as richly and honestly as you could - your one life."
"Thinking about your mother as a woman, with a private inner life, is daunting. It can feel as if you shouldn't go there."
Helen Stower
Written from fragments of memoir and some recorded interviews, Kate Grenville’s book outlines the event’s of her mother, Nance Russell’s life. It follows Nance from her birth in 1912 through childhood days growing up days, across the space of two world wars and the Great Depression and into the new millennium when she passed away in 2002.

This book is an intimate portrait of the life of Nance who was typical of her time in many ways and ahead of her time in others. Like many women, family came fi
Apr 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: aww15
This was a marvellous book - almost 5 stars for me (I find it very hard to give anything 5 stars though!) From fragments of writing Grenville found after her mother's death she has composed a rich story of a strong, independent woman who struggled with combining a profession (pharmacy) and raising a family in the days when not many women undertook such a challenge.

Nance Gee was born in 1912 to parents who were rural working class. She survived a difficult and emotionally deprived childhood, in p
Jul 16, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
3 1/2 stars. Kate Grenville is one of my favourite authors so I was happy to read her latest book, based on the life her mother, taken from fragmentary notebooks her mother left behind. It’s more than a biography, really, more like a love letter to her mother as she comes to understand the forces, familial and societal, that were at work. Her mother had an unconventional and unhappy childhood, and then an unhappy marriage, but managed to make a success of her life in spite of that.

In her prolog
Jun 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Doreen by: Bilqis
So how to describe this book without devolving into a slew of Personal Issues that had me sobbing so hard at points in the book that I had to set it aside and just cry from the relief of knowing that someone, somewhere, experienced the same pain and came out intact and even, dare I say it, happy?

Anyway, terrific biography of an astounding woman. The value placed on the maternal instinct and how it matters just as much to a woman's sense of self and personal fulfillment as outside work, and on cr
Jun 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This was a wonderful not-long-enough book about Kate's mother Nance. It was affectionate, interesting, and beautifully written. It showed so clearly how difficult life was for smart women who wanted more out of life than staying at home raising children. Nance and indeed her fearsome mother Dolly were intelligent women caught in the narrowness of Australia in the twenties, thirties, and forties. Dolly didn't manage to break free, and Nance almost didn't manage it. She did become a pharmacist, an ...more
I read this because I had just finished The Secret River and was caught up in this family. I couldn't get Searching for the Secret River on Kindle so I choose this one. I really did enjoy reading about Nance's life, which was fascinating, but the prose style held me off. It felt stiff stylistically and like an unimaginative child telling a story. I am sure that was part of the difficult negotiation that came from working with her mother's journals and not wanting to overstep and erase. Still, on ...more
Claire Preston
Nov 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved this account of a trailblazing woman, Nance, who knew her own mind, what she wanted, what she needed and what she could accept. She was a real inspiration, living through the depression and WWII, taking on a profession and working when women 'stayed at home' and making decisions for herself about the men in her life. Beautifully written, you feel a part of the adventures, trials and tribulations that were Nance's life. ...more
Sep 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
So readable, as all Kate Grenville's books are. Like her mother, it's nothing flashy or earth-shattering; but a true and sometimes sad portrait of a real woman living in a difficult time. ...more
Mar 02, 2016 added it
Kate Grenville: extraordinary writer, extraordinary mother, extraordinary biography. Don't miss it. ...more
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Kate Grenville is one of Australia's best-known authors. She's published eight books of fiction and four books about the writing process. Her best-known works are the international best-seller The Secret River, The Idea of Perfection, The Lieutenant and Lilian's Story (details about all Kate Grenville's books are elsewhere on this site). Her novels have won many awards both in Australia and the UK ...more

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“Standing in the dusk watching the great yellow eye of the tram light rushing towards her, she understood why some words were worth binding in leather and handing on. In the darkest hour, all the other humans who'd known dark hours were there with you. They'd been to the dark places before you, and they were with you now.” 2 likes
“You were alive for such a short time and then you went back into the great silence. The only ones who didn't vanish were the artists. While you were reading their words and looking at their pictures they were still alive, and you shared some of their life too.” 2 likes
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