Category Archives: Kate Grenville

One Life – Kate Grenville

I have often believed that some of the most interesting stories can come not from the rich and famous but from those people in our families past. I have the tale of my Great Great Aunt who after burying her husband returned to his grave sometime later to discover his mistress had been buried with him. We all have those family stories don’t we? Kate Grenville has many such a tale in her family, however it is the story of her mother Nance Russell that she has focused on (though we also get some other family tales) who, as we come to learn reading One Life, was a remarkable woman in many ways who lived through some of Australia’s most interesting historical times, yet to those who met her may have simply appeared to be a suburban housewife.

Canongate Books, hardback, 2015, non-fiction, 254 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Kate Grenville’s tale of her mother Nance starts from the first memory that Nance had of crying loudly and too much as she was put under her father’s arm. We start from the very beginning, and technically a little before her birth thanks to Grenville’s preface, as we join Nance at her home of Rothsay with her mother Dolly, her father Albert and her brothers Frank and Max. Yet this is not going to be home for long, and indeed this becomes a theme in Nance’s childhood, as soon the family up sticks and move, again and again and again, sometimes with her parents or a parent or sometimes shipped off to a relative or friend.

With the backdrop of the Australian Depression of the 1930’s we follow Nance’s childhood as she makes her way through school and soon come to see that Nance is going to become a woman of firsts as she studies pharmacy, graduates and becomes a pharmacist something quite unheard of at the time. And this is before she even falls in love or meets her husband and her life takes on multiple trajectories as she takes on multiple roles as lover, wife, mother and career woman. I don’t want to say too much more because part of discovering where Nance’s life goes is part of the charm of One Life, though it charmed me in plenty of ways.

It is very hard as you read One Life to remember that this is all based on fact, and indeed Kate had the help of many conversations with her mother before she died and the memoirs Nance had started. This is in part because of the way Nance’s life developed from that childhood I mentioned and onto being a successful career woman and quite amazing wife and mother at home. It is also because Nance is such a wonderful character; you can really imagine having a good laugh with her over a cup of tea. Yet whilst Grenville injects all the love and respect she had for Nance into her writing of her, we aren’t given a saint. As we discover Nance had flaws and some naughtier shenanigans in her life, we are given the portrait of a woman whole. I adored her and the way Grenville wrote about her from every angle.

Another thing that makes you forget that it is real is the backdrop that Nance’s life had in terms of Australia’s history, and Australia very much feels like a character in the book all of its own as we travel around it and see it go through bad times and good. We have the big events like the Depression and of course the World Wars, the latter which initially seems like a distant issue until her brother Frank enrols and ends up in a prisoner of war camp, which of course took me right back to Richard Flanagan’s very much fictional but all too real The Narrow Road To The Deep North. So you have these massive things happening in the background affecting Nance’s life.

Nance has seen the little man with the moustache on the newsreels, standing at his stone pulpit, his arm pumping up and down, haranguing great crowds that seemed like machines, line after line of people in the same uniforms thrusting their arms in the air. But it was on the other side of the world and in another language. It was serious but not personal. It was Britain’s war. The man with the moustache was frightening but he was also a bit ridiculous.

You also have the smaller yet equally significant domestic changes. We go through era’s where women are allowed to study and even graduate, we follow the sexual freedom and liberation that came from contraception, we watch as women could work and even set up by themselves breaking the shackles of society. We also learn how man, and some older generations of women (Nance’s mother Dolly is utterly fascinating) reacted to that both in good and bad ways. These small domestic shifts I found as interesting, if not more, than the big parts of history as I knew much less about them.

Leaving the doctors with the little beige box in her handbag, Nance thought, mine is the first generation of women, in the history of the world, to have any choice about children. All those millions of women who were nothing but baby-machines. So many of them must have been like me, wanting it both ways. Children, of course, but a life of their own too.

Grenville’s writing is wonderful; if you have read any of her novels you will know this already. Nance and her family come to life and walk off the pages. She celebrates the ordinary and the stories of the everyday. She builds the world of Australia through those times fully without hitting us over the head with research and yet highlighting important events big and small. What she also does which I think is very clever is that she highlights the plight of women at the start of the 1900’s, the struggle for change and how changes as it comes affects everyone, without ever taking a moral high ground or bashing men of the time for the society that they were also born into through no fault of their own. I mean if they behave badly then they are fair game, but not all of them did, a lot but not all. There is just great warmth, generosity and passion with this book that is really hard to try and encompass in words.

No book Nance had ever read described burned dinners or messed children. None had even mentioned trivial domestic details, let alone been exact about them.
The night Ken brought the new novel home for her she burned their own dinner, reading in the kitchen, so engrossed that she didn’t smell the potatoes until they were almost alight. At Mrs Lippincote’s was about the world she knew: the invisible armies of disregarded mothers and housewives. Elizabeth Taylor proved what Nance had always known, that the quiet domestic dramas of women’s lives might be invisible to men, but they mattered just as much.

I have chosen that final quote as I think (without having read At Mrs Lippincote’s, which I now desperately want to) that Kate Grenville does something in One Life which Elizabeth Taylor was trying to do with her writing. Not only does she write about some of the forgotten voices and the underdogs in society, she also writes about the domestic and the working class and celebrates them. In giving us the voice of her mother, Nance Russell, she gives voice to a generation of women who are often left unheard and yet who once known about should be the role model’s we should be championing to future generations. I cannot recommend you discovering Nance Russell’s story enough.

If you would like to hear Kate Grenville talking about One Life, you can hear her chatting to me on the latest episode of You Wrote the Book – which is back!

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Filed under Books of 2015, Canongate Publishing, Kate Grenville, Non Fiction, Review

Grilling Grenville…

On Saturday you guys gave me some great feedback when I asked you about author interviews. As always if you guys give me your thoughts I like to act on them and so with my next Savidge Reads Grills I am doing something a little bit different and asking you to also ‘ask the author’. And (if you hadn’t guessed from the title) the next author is…

…Kate Grenville! I am also giving you a few weeks notice as Canongate have very kindly offered to give away copies of ‘The Lieutenant’ to five of you. All you have to do is think of a question you would love to hear Kate Grenville answer.

They can only send to people in the UK and Europe so  if you are further afield then apologies but do pop a question in anyways as they could end up being in the interview which would be  a prize in itself I reckon. Oh and a small note I know you all loved Granny Savidge getting grilled and my mother has agreed to do it in a few weeks (she is just getting over some eye surgery this week) so you will be getting more of my reading heritage fairly soon.

You also don’t have to ask a question related to ‘The Lieutenant’ in case you were wondering, I have quite a few about ‘The Secret River’, it could just be a question that you have always wanted to ask an author, so get your thinking caps on. You have until last thing Sunday for the draw, you can keep popping in answers after that too of course! I shall now hand it over to your quizzical minds.

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Filed under Canongate Publishing, Give Away, Kate Grenville

The Secret River – Kate Grenville

You know when you have a book that you have had for ages and ages, everyone has told you that “you simply must read it” and yet you haven’t? We have all got some of these on our TBR’s I would imagine? ‘The Secret River’ by Kate Grenville is one such book for me (though I will admit there are a few) and finally I have managed to get around to reading it “at long last” I can hear some of you cry. It might actually be like preaching to the converted to discuss what this book is about as I have a feeling that most people have already given it a whirl. However, maybe as I hadn’t read it until now there might be some more people out there who don’t know what this book is all about.

9780857860842

The Secret River opens with a kind of prologue called ‘Strangers’ as William Thornhill arrives fresh off The Alexander in New South Wales, Australia as one of the convicts sent to serve a life sentence in 1806. On dry land he comes across one of the aboriginals a man ‘as black as the air itself’ and what follows is the scene of two men, neither understanding the other sussing each other out. Now this opening scene appeared rather random to me because three pages in you are in the poverty stricken streets of London in the late 1700’s. As the book develops in its different parts you soon come to understand the significance of it as The Secret River is not just about the first convicts to Australia, it is also about racism and a rather dark time in Australia’s history as men try and stake their claims on the continent and in doing so tragic and horrific events unfold.

What I think that Grenville has done in this book which is incredibly clever is give you the back story of William Thornhill and his wife Sal so that you have seen them struggle and fight through poverty, sickness, death and despair through their lives in London and so you come to like them. Therefore when they then become embroiled in situations in the future you have a real difficulty as a reader to then separate the people and the circumstances and the conclusions they bring. I can’t say any more than that as wouldn’t want to give the story away; it did make me really think though as well as affecting, horrifying and unnerving me.

I am aware that I might not do this book justice as if I say to much I culd ruin it for anyone who hasnt read it yet and isn’t aware of the story so am being a bit vaguer than normal. I was impressed how quickly I was pulled into this book and ended up reading it in four sittings. I can be a little hit and miss with historic fiction yet before I knew it I had gotten through half of the book. As I said I liked the characters of Will and Sal and despised some of Grenville’s well drawn vile characters like Smasher who has to be read to be believed. I also felt that Grenville tried to balance the story as best she could by putting you in the minds of both those arriving in Australia and doing anything to make their way and survive and those already in Australia who wanted to keep what was theirs and survive.

If that wasn’t enough Grenville even did the unthinkable and made me enjoy a book that has a lot of ‘boatish’ things going on in it, something I didn’t think was possible. I did have one small issue I must mention to make this a wholly rounded review and that was some of the characters names. I found it distracted me (and if you spotted this you will know why though email me don’t leave in the comments) which sounds a small thing but would draw me out of the story now and again, but a very small qualm overall.

All in all I am really, really pleased that I have finally read The Secret River, if you haven’t read it yet do give it a try. Its finding a book like this that is one of the reason’s why I am so pleased some of my resolutions were ‘whim reading’ and ‘no book buying’… look at what gems I have been missing. I will definitely be reading more of Grenville’s work in the future (I have a few more on the TBR), what would you recommend next? If you have already read The Secret River what did you make of it?

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Filed under Canongate Publishing, Kate Grenville, Review

Should Have Reads 2009

It’s odd to believe that we have two weeks left of the year to go. It is especially irksome when I look at my shelves and see the wonderful books that came out in 2009 that I simply haven’t read yet. I feel most shameful. Then I think hang on a second I have two weeks to go, I can probably polish off another five or six of them by then and that is where you will be coming in shortly!

Last year I did a list of the books at the end of the year that I had meant to read but hadn’t and ten seemed a huge amount to me then. I think this years list will exceed that, we will see when I compile it below, which is odd considering I have read more books this year than I have any other year. I blame a new love of all classics in particular sensation novels partly and the fact that I still had so much I wanted to read at the end of 2008. From my should have read list last year I have only read two of the books I intended to in 2009 (though lots more I didnt intend to), it’s not promising is it?

So now I will hand it over to all of you as you were so helpful with my Gran’s list last week. Which of the following books published in 2009 that I have on the TBR must I really try and read before the year is through?

  • The Devil’s Paintbrush – Jake Arnott
  • All The Nice Girls – Joan Bakewell
  • The Death of Bunny Munro – Nick Cave
  • War on the Margins – Libby Cone
  • The Solitude of Prime Numbers – Paolo Giordano
  • The Lieutenant – Kate Grenville
  • The Other Half Lives – Sophie Hannah
  • The Believers – Zoe Heller
  • A Beginners Guide To Acting English – Shappi Khorsandi
  • Pretty Monsters – Kelly Link
  • Hells Belles – Paul Magrs
  • One Day – David Nicholls
  • The Angels Game – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  • The First Person and Other Stories – Ali Smith
  • Noah’s Compass – Anne Tyler
  • Legend of a Suicide – David Vann

Actually that’s not as bad as I thought it would be. So over to you… which of these books must I try and devour by the end of the year and why? Which books published in 2009 have I missed and should have tracked down? I am looking forward to your thoughts as ever.

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Filed under Ali Smith, Anne Tyler, Book Thoughts, Books of 2009, Jake Arnott, Kate Grenville, Paul Magrs, Sophie Hannah

What I Bought Back From The North

Nope I still havent quite been able to finish reviewing Midnight’s Children though I have officially finished it. It has to be one of the hardest books to review, so while I recover from being a bit ill yesterday and try again to crack a worthy review I thought I would let you know of my latest bookshopping from while I was away up north last weekend! Naturally the bookshops of Matlock and the surrounding area were simply too good to miss. Can anyone tell me why charity shops arent as cheap as they are in the north of England everywhere? Mind you if they were I would be forever shopping and never have enough money to eat. I was slightly reserved and only bought four books and had valid reasons for buying them all frankly (and yes I will keep telling myself that)…

E.M. Forster – A Passage to India
I am having a real love affair with India through my reading so far this year (The White Tiger and Midnight’s Children to name two) and so this one being such a classic has always been on my radar. Reading the blurb how could I then resist “When Adela and her elderly companion Mrs Moore arrive in the Indian town of Chandrapore, they quickly feel trapped by its insular and prejudiced British community. Determined to explore the real India’, they seek the guidance of the charming and mercurial Dr Aziz, a cultivated Indian Muslim. But a mysterious incident occurs while they are exploring the Marabar caves with Aziz, and the well-respected doctor soon finds himself at the centre of a scandal that rouses violent passions among both the British and their Indian subjects.” Well frankly I couldn’t at 99p! It goes towards my aim of reading more classics in 2009 too.

William Golding – Rites of Passage
Well as I am planning on trying to read all the Booker winners within the next twelve-ish months this, the 1980 winner, has elluded me in recent shopping trips. I shamefully have still not read Lord of the Flies which I am quite embarrased about… I mean I call myself a reader!!!!

Carson McCullers – The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
I have to admit I bought this for the cover (I love the new silvery Penguin Modern Classics) and also for the title, come on you must all surely have done that before. However it does sound like it could be wonderful “Set in a small town in the American South, it is the story of a group of people who have little in common except that they are all hopelessly lonely. A young girl, a drunken socialist and a black doctor are drawn to a gentle, sympathetic deaf mute, whose presence changes their lives.” I might read this soonish!

Kate Grenville – An Idea of Perfection
I have been waiting and waiting to see a copy of this as I am holding off reading ‘The Secret River’ until I have managed this first. I dont know why I originally came up with that pact with myself but I did and am sticking to it. Plus with my soon to start Orange Short-list-a-thon I am going to read some previous winners and some of the other books the winners have written before I delve in!

What was the latest book you bought? Have you read any of the above or any of the authors mentioned? I would love to know! (Oh and dont forget the competition below!)

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Filed under Book Spree, Book Thoughts, Kate Grenville

Travel Companions (and a hard but worth while competition)

So by the time you read this I shall probably be on a train going halfway up the country to my homeland, that’s right the blogs you get over the next few days are timed and have been written in advance so I have been less reading and more typing the last few days. It is a mixture of sadness and happiness that takes me up as I love seeing all my family but sadly we are doing my Granddad’s (or as I called him Bongy) ashes, it would have been his 70th birthday on Sunday. Now that may get you all doing some maths, my Mum had me when she was 16 and my grandparents helped raise me when she was at University (well in the holidays – I was with her in term time) so as my Dad wasn’t around Bong was actually the closest thing to a Dad I had. Sadly almost two years ago he was diagnosed with cancer and died within seven weeks, and I think the shock, plus logistics of the Savidge Tribe (we are having a close family dinner Sunday and its 20 people) have held us off doing this sooner. I think it’s quite nice it’s his 70th seems timely. Anyway enough doom and gloom this is a book blog not my online therapy outpourings.

So like I said when you read this I will be on the train and what does one need for all good train journeys? No not a book… books. I see the books I travel with as being almost as important as whom I am travelling with. You need something for every possible eventuality; therefore I don’t take a book I tend to take two or three for each direction the ones I don’t read on the way to my destination I can read when I am at it if that makes sense? So I always take about six one of each of the following catagories;
a) Something big I have been meaning to read for ages
b) A guilty pleasure read in case the above really just doesn’t work out, you know something slightly erm… un-literary??!!
c) Something by one of my favourite authors (like we discussed on Thursday)
d) Something brand spanking new ‘just in’ as you never know
e) A good crime novel
f) Something that has been hovering on my TBR pile and reading radar for sometime
This so far has stood me in good stead (though do note this isnt the order I read them in) and ok so my bags might be a bit heavy (I always get a tut from the Non-Reader over the amount of books I “need” when we go on trips) but should the train breakdown in the middle of nowhere or we get stranded at a station hey I am all sorted thank you very much.

So for this trip I have enclosed in my luggage in reference to the above formula:
a) Midnights Children – Salman Rushdie (and the latest Savidge Big Reads which you can join in with, I think some of you are already?)
b) Angels & Demons – Dan Brown (as The Da Vinci Code was a complete cheap thrill page turner and also because I am also going to a special screening with Q&A’s with the stars and director next week)
c) Behind The Scenes At The Museum – Kate Atkinson (must try and love this book)
d) The Earth Hums in B Flat – Mari Strachan (and I am taking part in a blog on someone elses site where we get to ask the author lots of questions and you can join in – more of this on Wednesday)
e) The Point of Rescue – Sophie Hannah (because her books are just superb)
Now what about f? I was stuck I simply had too many contenders. Eventually I managed to whittle it down to five…

If you cant see the picture very well the five are; Daphne – Justine Picardie, The Girl on the Landing – Paul Torday, The Devil’s Paintbrush – Jake Arnott, The Road Home – Rose Tremain or The Secret River – Kate Greville!

So which one did I pick? Well I thought I would leave you guessing and see what you come up with, which one would you have taken? Which one do you think I will have taken? I can’t wait to read your thoughts… and also if you have any particular ‘books for travel’ rules yourselves?

I was going to dish up the results of my nosey findings of what people have been reading on the tube as it fits well with this but as this blog looks a little like a business report I shall hold off with any more lists and bullet points! I am going to run a little competition though… As well as telling me which one I picked from my five and your travel reads habits, if you can guess how many of the books I actually read (and which books they were) from what I have taken I will send you a very special book filled parcel! Adds to the May Bank Holiday Fun for you all I think! You have until 9am Tuesday…

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Jake Arnott, Justine Picardie, Kate Atkinson, Kate Grenville, Mari Strachan, Salman Rushdie, Sophie Hannah

Latest Reading Arrivals…

I thought as I have gone a fair few book reviews in the last two days that I would put up some pictures of the latest arrivals here in Tooting Towers. I have had some lovely parcels (some people call them promotional items – I call them presents) from some of the publishers which I always greet with great excitement. You can see these below…

The First Person & Other Stories – Ali Smith (Penguin)

I had the pleasure of reading Girl Meets Boy earlier in the year and so far its still one of my favourite reads in ages, I also loved The Incidental when I read that a few years ago. A collection of short stories that are “always intellectually playful, funny and moving’ should be a joy to read.

Mr Toppit – Charles Elton (Penguin)
The cover (or covers… more when I review) of this makes it look like a gothic mystery novel and I adore those. I have high hopes for a debut which seems to have a massive marketing campaign going and took fifteen years to write. The line “and out of the Darkwood Mr Toppit comes, and he comes not for you, or for me, but for all of us” sounds deliciously dark. I have to admit I have started this it just looked to good to savour.

Netherland – Joseph O’Neill (Harper Perenial)
Another one of the Richard and Judy Books of 2009 for which I am doing the challenge. This one is the one that in all honesty (and I will always be honest) has the least appeal to me initially as it seems to be about cricket which I am not a fan of. However its also a book about ‘belonging and not belonging’ which sounds unusual plus it was longlisted for the Man Booker and didnt win which is a good sign. I am more of a fan of the longlisted or shortlisted than the winner.

The Devils Paintbrush – Jake Arnott (Sceptre)
I meant to re-read his novel The Long Firm earlier but didnt manage to get round to it (don’t worry though I will) which is part of his trolgy about gangsters. This scandalous tale is set in Paris in 1903 and is Arnotts first foray into ‘historial fiction’.

The Dog – Kerstin Ekman (Sphere)
Dovegreyreader reviewed this recently and I would never have heard of it if not for her… and the people at NewBooks Magazine who have asked me to review it. It sounds a bit sad though, a puppy getting lost in the wild and having to fight for its survival. However this may actually make the dog loving Non Reader pick up a book after I have finished one for once.

The Prophet Murders – Mehmet Murat Somer (Serpents Tail)
A crime which has the wonderful subtitle of ‘a Hop Ciki Yaya Thriller’ – I am already sold.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay – Michael Chabon (Harper Perennial)
I cannot count the times that people have told me ‘you will love that book’ its huge so I will be saving it for some very long train journeys I have lined up in a few weeks. The fact its a “heart-wrenching story of escape, love and comic-book heroes set in Prague, New York and the Arctic” does sound like quirky brilliance so I may very well love it.

King Kong Theory – Virginie Despentes (Serpents Tail)
This book has caused quite a lot of controversy of late (well in the broadsheets at the weekend anyway) and has made me want to read it and from the chapter titles (oh its short autobiographical stories) which I shant print just yet I can see why. Its also very short and short reads are the way forward after Mr Toppit I think.

I also went second hand shopping yesterday and found…

The Danish Girl – David Ebershoff (Phoenix)
After the thought provoking The 19th Wife it seemed like fate when I saw this for 50p. The story is again based on real people this time the “story of Danish painter Einar Dresden, this is a strange and eerily haunting novel about a very unusual love affair between a man who realizes he is really a woman and his remarkable wife” sounds unusual and is currently being made into a film with Nicole Kidman and Charlie Theron in it!

The Leopard – Giuseppe di Lampedusa (Vintage)
I have seen this book listed in so many ‘books you must read’ lists and the like that again for 50p how could I say no? I had no idea what it was about but apparently its a materpiece “is set amongst an aristocratic family, facing social and political changes in the wake of Garibaldi’s invasion of Sicily in 1860” time will tell I sometimes have issues with masterpieces. Love the old Fontana edition I got will feel cultured andretro reading it on the tube.

The Secret River – Kate Grenville (Canongate)
I had been out shopping second hand especially for this. It’s for this reason that charity books are brilliant, money to a good cause and also when your unsure of an author its a good way of trying them before you become addicted and buy everything they do th moment it comes out… or never read them again. I heard Grenville on the Guardian Book Group podcast and despite the fact it pretty much gave everything away (I shant dear readers) I thought I should try it. It is another Man Booker nominee that didnt win so the signs are good I will like it.

As for what I am specifically reading this week after Mr Toppit… mainly short reads including The Dog as mentioned. After a few heavier novels I want some faster fiction plus I had a readers block for a while and short reads are the best medicine for that. I might recah for another Capote maybe. I have also promised Novel Insights (who is on a world tour so wont be blogging till the summer now – selfish) I will read The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood for our mammoth Rogue Book Group and shes stared already!

Any short read recommendations out there? What are you all reading?

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Filed under Ali Smith, Book Spree, Charles Elton, David Ebershoff, Jake Arnott, Joseph O'Neill, Kate Grenville, Kerstin Ekman, Virginie Despentes