This is a story I expected to like - historical, with an unusual setting and an interesting theme: what happens to a sensitive boy in a warlike medieval society, and how does he find his true self and his own place in the world?
It's a good story, full of change and surprising events, with nothing predictable about it. I really wanted to like it. My problem was with the style of writing. There is hardly any dialogue, and far too much 'telling' rather than 'showing'. It was first published in 1964 but feels like something from a much earlier time, with complex sentences, long paragraphs, and no sense of immediacy. I found it a struggle to read. The secondary characters might have given it life had they been allowed to expand and grow as Stephen does, but they are static and have no function except to further the arc of Stephen's story.
The dullness is not helped by this particular edition, which has an unattractive cover and - most unusually - no page breaks between chapters.
A book I read as a child, I have remembered for the last 60 years and always called it one of my favourite books I had ever written. Rereading it today has just reinforced my memory of a beautiful book
Stephen is born of a noble family in the reign of Edward 2nd. He is aloof and sensitive and is repeatedly taunted by his brothers and suffers agonies for it. Regarded as good for nothing, his only friend is a puppy that he rescues for drowning. His father sends him off to a monastery at age 14. The pup is to be given to a ruthless man so Stephen has it butchered rather than imagine the dog ill—treated. In the monastery he sent to work for an elderly monk who has devoted his life and skill to illuminating mss. of the gospels. Hating it, he runs away and is eventually found by a knight who teaches him to fight and becomes the first person ever to see good in him and who tells him to thank God for making different and to be himself, not act a part. The knight is publicly beheaded for loyalty to Edward 2nd and Stephen is alone again. Eventually he joins a group of knights and becomes a great leader of men because his sensitivity in youth has enabled him to understand others. A young squire is apprenticed to him —everyone regards this squire as worthless but Stephen's perseverance and trust, often ill—founded, make the boy into a worthy squire — until he died os smallpox, and Stephen is alone again. After wars in Scotland and a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, he decides to return to the monastery, not aged 26 and to devote his life to art (having drawn all his life while other boys were ought fighting and climbing trees) and the monk to whom he had been apprenticed is overjoyed — he's the most highly—skilled illuminator of mss. in Europe and he knew Stephen had talent but had never told him so for fear he'd be conceited and cease to strive for perfection and had rued the day Stephen had run away. A good book to place in the hands of aloof, shy and sensitive kids to help them to love themselves — but the era of chivalry might be too distant to interest them — though this distance might help them to accept the story as it is not too close to home and is, therefore, sufficiently remote to make its point without them feeling 'got at'.
I first read One Is One when I was 10 years old, and it was one of the first books that made me cry. I reread it nearly 30 years later and cried once again. That may not sound like much of a recommendation, but the tears came near the beginning, not at the end, and are part of an amazingly cathartic tale. Stephen's journey from boyhood to adulthood is a difficult one, filled with enough adventure to please children who are reading it for the promise of derring-do, as well as with pathos, loss, and wonder. I can't wait until my own daughter is old enough to enjoy it.