Monday, 17 October 2011

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest: My thoughts

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

This novel is set in a mental institution in America in the 60’s. The narrator ‘Chief’ Bromden is a Native American confined the ward, who pretends to be deaf and mute. The ward is run by Nurse Ratched who the Chief views as ruthless and mechanical and represents order and control. The patients on the ward are split into ‘Acutes’ who are there to be treated and eventually return to normal society, and ‘chronics’ who will be in hospital forever.
A new patient, McMurphy, who represents anarchy and freedom, is introduced early on in the book: he claims to be a psychopath but his behaviour shows he is in fact perfectly sane. He is faking insanity in order to serve a prison sentence in more comfortable surroundings. Through the Chief’s eyes we see McMurphy quickly become the leader of the group and see the battle of wills begin between Nurse Ratched and McMurphy. There is conflict between the two characters throughout the novel as McMurphy attempts to weaken Nurse Ratched’s fierce control of the word and this escalates to a shocking ending.

My Thoughts
I found this a hard book to get into, I didn’t ever fully relate to the Chief- which at first is because I didn’t understand what was going on. I completely missed the point that when things get scary for him his subconscious imagines fog everywhere and he stops being able to see and hear, it’s his way of hiding from the world, the fog is also a metaphor for his mental clarity... but I thought originally that the nurses were literally pumping the ward full of fog -and couldn’t for the life of me figure out why! :P  I also failed to realise that he had hallucinations so when an air raid took place in the ward I was most confused :P But  presuming that you’ve got more brains than me and don’t make the same mistake you may well find it easier to understand what’s actually happening!
However once I’d got past my misunderstandings, I still didn’t quite empathise with any characters or care much about their fate, something was missing to me.The story was interesting and I kept reading but I wasn’t hooked, I could quite easily put it down and go to bed, it’s not a book that would keep me up reading into the early hours at all. I didn’t really relate or empathise with any of the characters, I don’t know why... perhaps because it’s all from the chief’s rather strange point of view, even once I had a grasp of how his mind worked I was always struggling to work out what was the reality, and what was his projections. I think that the chief is supposed to be unreliable as a narrator and as the reader you should look to McMurphy who is the only sane patient but for me it was just too much effort to read a book narrated by somebody who struggles to hold on to reality for the majority of the story.
However it is a book with deeper meaning, if you give a little time and have the desire to think thought it all, it raises big questions and explores important themes and issues. I think it has the potential to be a book I’ll come back to and get more from the second time round.

In a Nutshell...
This is a book that I’m glad I’ve read now that I’ve finished it but I didn’t particularly enjoy reading and to be honest I doubt I’d ever recommend it to a friend. But at the same time I do strongly  feel it could just be me, it seemed to have the ingredients of a really good book with many layers to it, so it is most likely a much better book than I’m giving it credit for.
Heather xx


Emma :) said...

Have you seen the film? I haven't read the book, but the film is quite um...harrowing, I suppose. Sounds like it would be better than the book, anyway :)

Heather said...

No I haven't ever watched the film, but I've heard it's really good so I may watch it at some point.
It's not a bad book, I think it's a good book, just one I didn't personally enjoy- if that makes sense :P