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One True Thing [Paperback]

Anna Quindlen
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Sep 2011

Ellen Gulden is a successful, young New York journalist. But when her mother, Kate, is diagnosed with cancer, she leaves her life in the city to return home and care for her. In the short time they have left, the relationship between mother and daughter - tender, awkward and revealing - deepens, and Ellen is forced to confront painful truths about her adored father.

But in the weeks that follow Kate's death, events take a shocking and unexpected turn. Family emotions are laid bare as a new drama is played out, and overnight Ellen goes from devoted daughter to prime suspect, accused of the mercy killing of her 'one true thing'.

One True Thing is the devastating story of a mother and daughter, of love and loss, and of shattering choices.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Windmill Books (1 Sep 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099538148
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099538141
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.1 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 209,294 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Anna Quindlen is the author of the bestselling novels Blessings and Rise and Shine, amongst others, and of the non-fiction titles Living Out Loud, Thinking Out Loud and A Short Guide to a Happy Life. Her New York Times column 'Public and Private' won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992. She is currently a columnist for Newsweek and lives with her husband and children in New York.

Product Description

Amazon Review

Quindlen hits a nerve with One True Thing, which captures an experience seldom dealt with in popular culture. Though the heroine, Ellen Gulden, is a golden girl with two brothers who'll lose her career the instant she steps off the fast track, society concurs with her dad, who says, "It seems to me another woman is what's wanted here."

The book is a mother-daughter tale that should please fans of, say, The Joy Luck Club. It's not flashy, but it has a deep feel for the way children often discover, just before it's too late, who their parents really are. "Our parents are never people to us," Ellen writes, "they're always character traits.... There is only room in the lifeboat of your life for one, and you always choose yourself, and turn your parents into whatever it takes to keep you afloat." The mercy-killing subplot isn't gripping, but the palpable sense of deepening family intimacy certainly is. --Tim Appelo --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"A very good novel indeed - the relationship between mother and daughter is a triumph. This novel deserves to be bought, read and kept." (Elizabeth Jane Howard)

"One True Thing is so uncompromising in its portrait of life and death, so honest in its rendering of love and loss, that it is simply impossible to forget." (Alice Hoffman)

"Quindlen's extraordinary moving novel is about family responsibilities, compassion, and growing up." (Daily Mail)

"Not a word or an emotion is out of place" (Sunday Times)

"...a brave and beautiful book." (The Times)

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very moving story 13 Dec 2000
By A Customer
A well written novel about a successful young woman who somewhat reluctantly puts her career on hold to become carer for her mother who is dying of cancer. This book very thought-provoking and extremely moving. The honesty of the characters sets it apart from the rest and although it is sad it is not depressing at all. I thoroughly recommend that you experience this book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Ellen, the protagonist in this story, begins as a hard-nosed, ambitious, selfish young woman who has grown up in the shadow of her academic father. By the end of the story she has developed into a caring, moving character with whom the reader empathises. Forced by her father to give up her job in order to care for her dying mother, Ellen goes through emotions ranging from bitterness and resentment to love and admiration for her suffering mother. Quindlen deals with the subject matter in a sensitive but upfront manner, confronting the fears harboured by many of us that faced with such a tragic situation we would not have the patience, courage or selflessness to care for our parents in their decline. Ellen learns a lot during this period, and not only about herself. When the inevitable happens, she realises that had she not accepted the task of caring for her mother, she would never had known her properly. She had always dismissed her mother's role as homemaker and wife, but she soon realises that there is so much more to her mother, a dimension and a strength which Ellen had never appreciated as a child. This is a sad but very powerful, thought-provoking book which is definitely worth reading. One piece of advice: READ THE BOOK BEFORE YOU SEE THE FILM - AND THEN DECIDE IF YOU WANT TO HAVE YOUR MEMORIES RUINED!!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
This book paints a true and sad picture of nursing a dying mother through her battle with cancer. Having always felt that she was the model of her academic aloof father, Ellen returns home, initially against her will, to care for her critically ill mother. As the two of them bond, Ellen realises the strength that she has gained from her mother and the pivotal role the older woman played in the shaping of her life, appreciating the qualities she had and the ones passed on. It is a tale of strength, courage and family love in situations that bring people together and tear them apart.
All I can say is I found tears streaming down my cheeks whilst reading this book and could not put it down. I read it all through the night - it was gruelling but well worth it. Thank you Anna for bringing me back down to earth.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
As the novel opens, Ellen Gulden is in jail, on suspicion of having aided in the death of her mother, a woman who had been experiencing agonizing pain from inoperable cancer. As Ellen reminisces about the five months she spent caring for her mother, the novel develops into much more than the story of her mother's death. Ultimately, it is the story of Ellen's emotional and spiritual coming of age, a positive story of growth and love, not the maudlin tearjerker that one might expect on the basis of plot summaries.

When her father first asks her to come home to care for her mother, Ellen is resentful. She has been out of college only a couple of years, and her career as a journalist in New York is just starting. She resents the fact that she will have to give up her whole life and return home indefinitely--perhaps permanently--believing that her father has not been doing his part to help her mother. Ellen, nevertheless, returns home, and she and her mother begin to know each other in new ways, starting, at first, with their two-person book club and then moving on to a sharing of holiday decorating and cooking secrets. Her resentment of her father increases, as her own relationships, especially with her long-term lover, deteriorate.

The death of Kate Gulden is part of the much larger story of Ellen's discoveries about herself and her new understandings of her parents, her parents' marriage, and how one faces one's inevitable fate. Her ability to make peace with both her mother's death and her changed feelings for her father take place within the context of her arrest and its aftermath, as she comes to a new recognition that life's important questions have no absolute answers. A fine novel which reveals the ambiguities of love and family relationships, the novel stresses the changing roles within families as people face the inevitabilities of life, growth, and death. Mary Whipple
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A companion during a life's trial 6 Nov 2003
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Having felt alone in the experience of looking after a sick relative I found this book one of the most comforting real companions to what could have been an isolating ordeal.
Enough of me! Ms Quindlan is very gifted at creating humour out of suffering and isn't that the panacea of life but more than that she is real and with so many of us told to get real she shows us how to do it!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a good study of relationships 30 Oct 2011
By Mrs. A. Wright VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This book gives an excellent account of how Ellen and her family interact after Ellen gives up a good job and life in the city to care for her mother Kate, who is dying of cancer. Loving and caring and death and dying are well explored and add a court case to this and you have a good strong plot. It is written in the first person in a calm matter of fact almost analytical manner. It is frank, almost brutally honest at times. There is no drama, almost everything is understated which seems to make the emotive subject that much more compelling. I had a great deal of sympathy for Ellen and Kate throughout the story but started by feeling irritation for the husband and sons then ending feeling sympathy for them too. If the author has not written this from first hand experience then I must commend her research because it is totally believable. There is no feel good factor although there is a little humour which makes you smile. I was left somehow with a quiet feeling of satisfaction. I would recommend it to anyone to read. I think most people would take something away from it.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Slightly morbid subject which could be upsetting to some who have been through this ordeal but very well written.
Published 1 month ago by Gill Spinks
5.0 out of 5 stars One True Thing we all should read
I have watched friends who have lost a parent to cancer well up when talking about how accurately Anna Quindlen captured the tragedy and trauma of dealing with a loved one... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Niamh Daly
4.0 out of 5 stars Renewing family relationships when parents need care
It's a deep and meaningful read. Essentially, it is about how relationships change when a family member becomes ill and is in need of care. Read more
Published 22 months ago by J Hutch
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written
Ellen returns home reluctantly when her mother is diagnosed as being terminally ill to take over her care. Read more
Published 23 months ago by F Keegan
5.0 out of 5 stars A Truly Great Story
This is the second of Anna Quindlen's novel's I've read and has cemented her in my mind as a favourite author. Read more
Published on 21 Oct 2012 by Joanne Phillips
5.0 out of 5 stars The parent-daughter relationship explored
This is a beautifully-paced book, exploring the mother-daughter relationship and family dynamics revisited in the context of the mother's serious illness. Read more
Published on 17 Sep 2012 by H. Eaton
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most touching books I've read. (Contains no spoilers).
I'd never read any of Anna Quindlen's work before, coming across 'One True Thing' during a haphazard meander through Amazon's book department. Read more
Published on 2 Sep 2012 by lyssa
5.0 out of 5 stars Heart-wrenching
Ellen is a career girl with a successful journalism job and is enjoying living in the city with her friends. Read more
Published on 22 July 2012 by A Biblioholic
4.0 out of 5 stars Hard Hitting and Emotional
It's taken a long time to read this relatively short book (just over 300 pages). It's a very difficult story to read emotionally, but it's also beautifully written and the words... Read more
Published on 6 May 2012 by Lincs Reader
5.0 out of 5 stars thought provoking read
I really enjoyed this book and couldn't put it down,in fact I read it in 3 days. You really felt for the characters in this book, and it was written with warmth but not too... Read more
Published on 2 May 2012 by M. A. Coyle
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