"In One Life, Kate Grenville takes the story of her mother’s life and makes it quite mesmerising. Her mother left behind fragments of memoir, and Grenville uses her magic writerly skills to weave these together into a moving narrative, complete with rounded characters and momentum. What a difficult thing it must have been to write, but what a treasure she has given us. Her mother, Nance, lived through the 20th century’s dramatic changes, and this memoir documents Australia’s social history: our rural and farming culture, attitudes to Aborigines, life in Sydney during the Depression and war, the status and experience of women, politics and class—it’s all there. The settings—the thirsty paddocks, grim city streets and gloomy pharmacy—are brought vividly to life. The central thread, of course, is Nance, whose strength of character, likeability and common sense make a remarkable heroine. The hardships she faced, especially as a child, seem particularly tough, as does her decision to stay in an unhappy marriage. She becomes a qualified pharmacist in an era when women stayed at home, and her views on motherhood and her struggle to combine work and parenting remain particularly relevant. Evocative and fascinating, this brave and heartfelt tribute will appeal to anyone interested in their own family story, Australian history, or the lives of women."
Joanne Shiells, Australian Bookseller and Publisher
"... a captivating family drama about a 20th-century heroine battling conventions ... Losing your mother is a turning point in everyone's life and for many it's also the moment when you start to see the person behind the parent. It's a strange feeling as you gaze down at the entirety of your mum's life, not just the bit that was about you. Kate Grenville has translated that revelation into a totally mesmerising story which reads not like a memoir, but rather like a perfectly paced novel. It's a moving journey impeccably written."
The Australian Women's Weekly "Great Read"
"Grenville has done us a service: her mother's story illuminates who we are and where we have come from in an era that is busy shedding its past ... The descriptions are redolent of the era and framed with Grenville's knack for showing what is exotic, and what is surprisingly familiar, about the past. When she describes her response to her mother's life, with its startling later denouments, the pages are filled with a warmth, love and crackling immediacy."
Miriam Cosic, The Australian
"Kate Grenville already has a significant place in Australian literature, not least because her first novel, Lilian's Story, is a masterpiece. Now she has written a life of her mother, Nance. The story she has to tell makes for a compelling read ... Grenville's recapitulation of her mother's voice is in the end very moving."
Peter Craven, The Age
" 'Who was my mother?' is the belated question many people ask, and Grenville's warmth and determination, qualities inherited from her mother, conjure Nance into being. Memoir and biography can slump into sentimentality, blame or mourning, but not in these deft hands. The writing glides, ego-less, through this one life that adapted to the massive changes of a century. I closed the book with regret, wanting more ... "
Helen Elliott, The Monthly
"Grenville has set herself a challenging task to write of someone so close - her own mother - without allowing her perspective as daughter to take precedence ... Nance's life was fascinating, and Grenville's writing captures emotion in startlingly original ways."
Eleanor Limprecht, Sunday Age
"Grenville's recounting of her mother's life makes a beautifully muted counterpoint to the whimsical grandiosity of her 1988 novel Joan Makes History. Where Joan was everywoman and everywhere, Nance Russell's life is limned with particularity and retraint. Drawing on her mother's false starts at a memoir as well as her own novelistic skill, Grenville exquisitely depicts the pre-modern cast - integrative, not disintegrative - to Nance's acceptance of disappointments, and to the consolations she found for herself ... in the postscript Grenville's own voice emerges, vivid and warm, to offer a loving outline of the fulfilment Nance found in her life's second half."
FL, The Saturday Paper
"Grenville's is an absorbing, finely crafted account; it flares into most vivid life in the relaxed postscript where she speaks of her mother with love and pride and in her own distinctive voice."
Katherine England, Weekend Advertiser
"With her customary elegance and warmth, Kate Grenville has lovingly documented her mother's life, capturing the aura of the times. I thoroughly enjoyed her engrossing story."
Mary Ann Elliott, The Chronicle
"Kate Grenville's mother was an extraordinarily resourceful, resilient and interesting woman ... Good memoirs narrate some aspect of a life that goes beyond one individual's experience to resonate with more universal issues. Therein lies the double worth of this memoir. We come to understand and feel deeply for Nance. This gutsy woman overcomes the many hurdles placed in her way ... The memoir is Grenville's gift to her mother. It is also a gift to countless readers who will recognise their own experience, or their mother's experience, in these pages."
Bernadette Brennan, Australian Book Review
"While this may be a memoir, Grenville still manages to treat the reader to some wonderfully evocative prose. Once again, she treats her readers to a brilliant read."
Marianne Vincent, Australian Pharmacist
"As a work of imaginative sympathy, it is as successful as it is audacious. Though not written in the first person, Nance Russell's voice emerges from One Life clear, authentic and utterly engaging."
Danuta Kean, The Independent (UK)
"Grenville tells the story of her mother's 'ordinary' life with calm precision. In amongst the supposed ordinariness of her life are the glints of gold, the details that make out something less usual. Her story is the story of millions of women, and Grenville relishes the universality of its apparent routineness. Grenville gives Nance both grace and dignity in her everyday struggles."
Lesley McDowell, The Herald Scotland (UK)
"One Life is a work of filial devotion that unfolds almost as a novel, with stretches of lively dialogue and descriptive passages. The story absorbs from start to finish. Exquisitely written, this is a tender reconstruction of a woman's exemplary life."
Ian Thomson, The Sunday Independent (UK)