One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Ken Kesey Pages: 325 Published: 1962
The book: Randle Patrick McMurphy manages to get himself admitted to a mental hospital to serve out the last few months of his prison term, thinking the hospital will be a better option. Nurse Ratched runs the ward he is in like a dictatorship, where there are severe penalties for failure to follow her rules. McMurphy challenges Nurse Ratched, flouting her rules and leading many of the other patients astray. What started as a game turns into a deadly battle of wills. The story is narrated by a Native American, Chief Bromden, who has been a patient in the hospital for years.
You might like it because: It’s an exceptionally well-written story. Kesey sets the scene and builds the tension until you are sitting on the edge of your seat. He brings his characters to life so you are rooting for McMurphy and praying that you never ever meet Nurse Ratched in real life.
What did other people say?
“A work of genuine literary merit . . . What Mr. Kesey has done in his unusual novel is to transform the plight of a ward of inmates in a mental hospital into a glittering parable of good and evil.”– The New York Times Book Review
“The final triumph of these men at the cost of a terrifying sacrifice should send chills down any reader’s back …. This novel’s scenes have the liveliness of a motion picture.”
– The Washington Post
How quickly will you get into the book? There’s action right away in the first chapter. From there I was reeled in, and by page 100, the tension is building and keeps on building till the end.
You might not like it because: The female characters in the book are portrayed in a way that could be considered sexist or misogynistic. The black characters, mostly Nurse Ratched’s orderlies, are also portrayed in a negative way and seem one dimensional.
What might you read next?
Kesey did an interview with the Paris Review in 1994. The interviewer said, “Your heroes are often little warriors against big enemies. If the writer is a “warrior,” who is his enemy?” Kesey talked about who and what he perceived as the “enemy,” then said, “Zora Neale Hurston and Louise Erdrich are good examples of warriors.”
Read Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God or Louis Erdrich’s Love Medicine.
Alternatively, pick up another fictional novel that is partly set in a mental hospital, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.
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