|Purchase: Amazon | Chapters|
Start Date: Sometime in 2007-8
Finished Date: Sometime in 2007-8
Where Found: Chapters-Indigo
Why Read: Love the movie and heard the book was equally good or better.
Summary: A mute Aboriginal patient in a 1960s mental hospital narrates his encounters with a rebellious con who trades in jail time for treatment and his interactions with other inmates and the cold, authoritarian Big Nurse.
Ken Kesey, along with Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, represent the countercultural Beat generation of writers who infested their writing with the live wires of rebelliousness and mayhem. Their similar styles of prose influenced the postmodern era that culminated into some of the world’s greatest literary fiction.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is Kesey’s most ambitious, accomplished work. The language bursts with vivid, otherworldly imagery unlike any other I’ve read. The characters at first appear caricatured, only to surface as complex human beings each contributing a strand to the narrative that intertwines into a complicated mass of madness and sanity. As to who is really crazy, it is not as cut & dry as you may first believe. Randle MacMurphy arrives on the scene, boldly defining the rigid, vegetative state of the mental hospital he is sent to, defying the sterility of the Big Nurse and cracking a veneer that has not quite settled over her patients. Witnessing the unraveling of her calculated, often detrimental, system of treatment is both terrifying and marvelous.
The ironic narrator of the mute Aboriginal patient nicknamed “Chief” is acutely focused, deeply insightful, and, most important for readers, trustworthy. By remaining mute in the company of fellow patients and hospital staff, his voice is precious and we reap every word. His backstory is a sympathetic, horrifying one that recalls the mistreatment of Natives with a vision that emanates an incredible energy.
One misstep that many readers are critical of is Kesey’s depiction of black orderlies in the mental hospital as cruel and despicable with racist stereotypes in spite of his obvious sympathy to the whitewashing of Aboriginals. It is not the focus of the novel but is nonetheless hard to ignore.
The movie is an incredible adaptation that I encourage you to watch. Jack Nicholson is amazing as Randle MacMurphy and Louise Fletcher’s Nurse Ratched was surprisingly sympathetic to me at first, but gives an icy edge to her treatment of the patients that gives you chills. The ending is one of my all-time favourite movie scenes.
I guarantee that you will never forget this book after you read it and it will stay with you for a long time after.
Rank: (A+)- A must-read!