Two days ago I finished reading “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kesey. I actually saw the movie before reading the book, so I had an idea of what to expect. I was very pleasantly surprised by this novel and how quickly I flew through it. Ken Kesey is a very talented author and I cannot wait to read the other books that he has written.
For those who are not familiar with “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, the story is told by a patient in a psychiatric ward whom everyone believes is deaf and dumb. This gives the ‘Chief’ a unique advantage to learn everyone’s dirty secrets. His narrating is focused on a particular time at the psychiatric ward when Randle McMurphy is introduced to the ward. He turns the ward upside down and inside out.
While Randle is the hero in the story, Nurse Ratchet is the villain. McMurphy decides that while he is in the psychiatric hospital that he will see just how far he can push Nurse Ratchet. He comes in as a gambling man and makes bets with all of the guys in the ward for games like blackjack and poker to bets on how flustered he can get ‘Big Nurse’. The Chief who narrates the story shares a room with McMurphy and the two form a bond. This grows into a friendship when McMurphy promises to help the Chief become big again. McMurphy is also the one to first notice that the Chief is faking being deaf and dumb and he gets the Chief to talk again.
Ken Kesey’s novel is well written, as I said before, but it also is disturbing. This is mostly because a lot of what he writes, although it is a fictional tale, it holds a fair amount of truth in it. The novel discusses various treatments for the mentally ill and it is frightening to read about what has been done in the past from over-medicating to electro-shock therapy to lobotomies. The really scary part is that a lot of this does still go on today. I have some experience in this area and I can say that there most definitely are doctors out there who would rather write prescription after prescription until you are so doped up that you barely know up from down. While electro-shock is still done today it is done on a much smaller scale. Lobotomies still happen in the world as well although a large part of society sees the procedure to be cruel.
The story is very well written and moves at a steady pace which is more than I can say for the movie. I am tempted to go back and view the movie again to see if my perspective on it will have changed after having read the book. Would I recommend this novel? Yes, definitely. I believe Ken Kesey’s novel would appeal to a very large audience. I cannot wait to get my hands on his other works.