Kate Grenville’s mother, Nance Gee (née Russell), was an extraordinarily resourceful, resilient, and interesting woman. Born in 1912 to ill-matched, working-class parents and surviving a childhood lacking in stability and opportunity, she went on to become an inspirational mother, businesswoman, and teacher. Some years after her death in 2002, Grenville began sorting through Nance’s papers and found, to her surprise, that her mother had ‘often thought about writing a book’. With the exception of one letter to the Sydney Morning Herald, Nance never published. In One Life: My Mother’s Story, Grenville sets out to remedy that lack.
The memoir is bookended by an engaging prologue and postscript, written in Grenville’s direct and vibrant voice. Surprisingly, Grenville seems tentative about the worth of her prospective tale. She muses that her mother ‘wasn’t the sort of person biographies are usually written about. She wasn’t famous … did nothing that would ever make the history books. Just the same, I think her story is worth telling.’ And it most certainly is. I am not entirely convinced, however, about Grenville’s method of narration.