One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey, Robert Faggen, Chuck Palahniuk

I read about 60% of the book then somehow mislaid it to bring my reading to a screeching halt. This can in no way cast aspirations on my tidiness you understand, it just fell into one of my many piles of books and awaited re-discovery (I maintain that this could happen to anyone). It took me awhile to find exactly where I left off which meant that I had to re-read large sections of it in order to make sure I hadn't missed anything and to get the feel of the book again, One could say I had double enjoyment.

Randle Patrick McMurphy, a loud, boisterous Irishman, tired of doing his time on the work gang, has finagled his way into completing his sentence in a mental hospital. His first impression that this was a "piece of cake", with good meals, light work, lots of rest and plenty of time to play games and watch his beloved baseball games on television. This is quickly disabused by his nemesis, Nurse Ratched, who rules the ward with a tyranical will disguised by a soft-spoken, calm, reasoned manner that not only keeps the inmates (patients), but the doctors as well, in such a cowed state that they all bend to her will. Only McMurphy stands up to her. What ensues is a battle of wills between two strong personalities, each determined to win their war and come out on top.

It really bothered me to read the tired old stereotypes of Kelsey's depiction of women, the only good ones, the fun loving and kind women, being the whores, while the strong ones were manipulative witches like Nurse Ratched, mothers who instilled such a sense of shame in their sons like Billy's mother did that it left Billy a stuttering wreck, or emasculating women like Harding's wife. None deserved nor received respect. Considering the attitude of society towards women at the time this was written though this is hardly surprising.

Putting aside Kelsey's misogyny, there is so much to like about this book, with the superb writing and imagery that brought you right into the story, but it has been reviewed and written about so many times that I doubt I could add anything new to its praises. There is nothing that hasn't been said and said better by others. It was interesting to see the dynamics between the patients, McMurphy, and Nurse Ratched and how McMurphy's influence and larger than life attitude upset the carefully manipulated structure that Nurse Ratched laid out. Everyone has their favourite character from the book or movie. Mine truly has to be Chief Bromden, our narrator, a passive yet giant indian man who for years has convinced all that he is deaf and mute. I celebrated his transformation as he slowly regained some of his sense of self worth and identity.

Although not a long book, Kelsey packed a lot into it, never letting the action or tension lessen until the end. If you haven't as yet either read the book or seen the movie, I highly recommend you read the book and read it, preferably before watching the film version.

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