Saturday, 31 May 2014

Inferior Book Group #8:

I'm sure you'll be hugely relieved to see that the Inferior Book Group is back after a month's hiatus!  Not really, but it did feel good to tick another book off my list after slacking last month.  It's nearly getting to the point where I've got through enough of my existing stash that I can even think about buying new books (woo!) but I do have a few classics to read before I can justify it.

During May I finally read the copy of Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest I've had on my shelf for the last four years.  Someone at work noticed me reading it and asked: 'Is that one of those books you should read before you die?'  And, yeah, it kind of is.  But that doesn't mean (as I usually assume about those kind of books) that it's boring or a chore to read.  In fact, I loved every minute of this novel, and raced through it in record time, but that doesn't mean it was an 'easy' read.

Source: here

Although Kesey was an accomplished author, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (published in 1962) is undoubtedly his most famous piece of work.  As you probably already know, the story follows the events inside a psychiatric hospital as a new and unusual patient arrives to shake things up.  The book's narrator (an endearing Native American friendly giant) is believed to be a deaf mute by everyone around him, but is actually the insightful eyes, ears and voice of  the ward.  Through him, Kesey delivers an impressive combination of humour and emotion whilst constantly asking the novel's most important question - what exactly constitutes 'crazy'?

There is a constant battle going on between the ward's patients and its staff, particularly one tyrannical nurse.  I definitely understood and sympathised with this type of frustrating power struggle which, ultimately, the patients never had a chance of winning.  Everyone has felt this way, whether it's at home, at work, or even in terms of government - so much injustice going on around you and no way whatsoever to change it.

While One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was enthralling and also very funny in places, I did find some of its subject matter hard to stomach.  The staff at the hospital still administer shock treatment and lobotomy in order to 'cure' their patients - barbaric methods that Kesey's narrator points out were old fashioned even at that time.  I found it particularly upsetting to read about the after effects of the treatments, especially knowing that so many real people suffered in this way in the past.  I wouldn't wish that on anybody.

The novel is melancholy in nature, but I came away from it feeling strangely uplifted and  I would definitely urge anyone who hasn't read it to give it a go.

For June it will be the turn of another bucket list classic: On the Road by Jack Kerouac.  Hopefully I can live vicariously through this story and escape while I'm stuck in front of a computer screen writing my dissertation!

Read April's review here: The Great Gatsby

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