TITLE: One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
AUTHOR: Ken Kesey
PUBLISHER: Penguin Classics
GENRE: Adult, Classic, Contemporary
RATING: 3/5 Stars
Tyrannical Nurse Ratched rules her ward in an Oregon State mental hospital with a strict and unbending routine, unopposed by her patients, who remain cowed by mind-numbing medication and the threat of electric shock therapy. But her regime is disrupted by the arrival of McMurphy – the swaggering, fun-loving trickster with a devilish grin who resolves to oppose her rules on behalf of his fellow inmates. His struggle is seen through the eyes of Chief Bromden, a seemingly mute half-Indian patient who understands McMurphy's heroic attempt to do battle with the powers that keep them imprisoned.
What I Liked:
- The characterisation in this book was key to making the story right, and my goodness did Kesey nail it. I particularly loved McMurphy and Nurse Ratched. Despite being a petty criminal and con man, McMurphy quickly became on the list of characters I love with his wise-cracking, quick-thinking personality. Ratched, a supposed kind and charitable pillar of the community also made it to the top of the list of scariest and most evil villains of my book reading life. Watching the two attempt to outsmart each other was very entertaining and made for some really good plot points.
- Kesey also wrote pretty well and got the world-building pretty much spot on. Seeing the play and film prior to reading probably helped a little but I was blown away by how well I seemed to be able to see the entire mental ward and envisage all of it's patients. There were so many moments in this book where I felt like I was reading a true masterpiece and everything came together so well.
What I Disliked:
- Despite the fact that I did like Chief Bromden's perspective a lot, I find it hard to sort through some of the bizarre hallucinations and dreams that he had, and skimmed over his old memories because I wanted to get back to the main story. Symbolically they were probably very important but it was at these points where I no longer felt like I was enjoying the book quite so much. Bromden also didn't have a whole lot to say or do (something that I feel happened with a lot of the lesser characters).
- The overall message of the book is deeply rooted in it's time. It's misogynistic, anti-establishment and racist and there were moments that I felt a little uncomfortable reading it. At moments, the book goes too deeply into trying to convey it's message and the plot didn't do enough to convince me that this was everything I had hoped it would be despite these heavy themes. I prefer the film and play because they do not incorporate this tone nearly as much.
This book proved to be a mixed bag for me and I had to carefully think about my rating. On the one hand Kesey wrote well and characterised perfectly, with a really good dose of world-building for good measure. There were some shocking twists to keep interest, and the ending will blow anyone who reads this away and probably leave them speechless. On the other side of the coin however, this book conveys a message that I'm not overly comfortable with and sometimes got a little confusing as Bromden was prone to a lot of hallucinations and strange thoughts. It's clear to see why this became a classic, but it's definitely not quite as universal in it's themes as I had hoped.