Kate Grenville’s latest book may be a biography of her mother, rather than a novel, but One Life is not miles away from Grenville’s other works, mainly because she mines Australian history for an interesting story to which she can add her novelistic flourishes, which include being able to narrate the action and add some pertinent reflection, as well as being able to inhabit the headspace of the protagonist, which in this case, as with a novel, means a level of creativity.
My sense of (Grenville’s mother) Nance’s life was that she moved with and somewhat at a remove from the flow of events and that her life story would be surprising even to herself. But different readers pick up different emphases, or read different things into the narrative. Another reader I know felt that Nance was a determined, forthright woman, forging her own independent path. Maybe she was both. This is the thing with biographies – lives are complex, sometimes contradictory things.