Over the week-end I finished reading Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. This is a novel that I’ve wanted to read since I can’t remember when, but it’s always just been on the TBR list somewhere, and not at the top. However, when it was recommended (and lent) to me by a friend from work who has a particular interest in psychiatry, I pretty much ignored my reading plan for the remainder of the year and bumped it up to the top of the queue.
And when she told me there were a few drug references and the like, I was even more eager to read it. I’m a bit of a pharmacy nerd like that – I like novels/movies with factually correct drug references. Plus, I reckon psychiatry is an interesting field – and this is about psychiatry in the 1960s! (Despite forgetting the majority of what I learnt in high school History, I still have some interest in the subject in general. Gotta learn from the past and all that, right?)
I’m guessing most people are familiar with the story – quite a few people who have seen me carrying the book around have commented about having also read it, or having watched the film – so I won’t summarise it here (I realise that I hardly ever do that, anyway, even if the book I’m writing about is a bit more obscure).
From the very first chapter, I knew this wasn’t like anything I’d ever read before. I feel like I say that about every second book I read, so maybe that’s a good indication of the broad variety of books I’m reading…? Maybe I should try to read more books that are similar to the ones I like…?
Cuckoo’s Nest is narrated from the perspective of one of the patients, “Chief Bromden”, and sometimes it takes a while to realise whether he’s describing something that’s actually happening, or if it’s just in his head. For example, near the start somewhere, Bromden talks about this fog machine that the hospital ward uses to, well, make a fog that blocks out his vision, etc. At first, I thought this was “real”, but I soon realised that it wasn’t really real… And same goes for the noises he hears in the wall – all the things that make him paranoid. Or maybe it was all real!? Either way, I thought it was all really fascinating.
Something else that made Cuckoo’s Nest a bit different was the inclusion of sketches of various characters. It makes for a nice change. But I was a little bit disappointed that they were fewer and further between, the further in to the book you got. But it must’ve been alright because I didn’t really notice the lack of sketches in the later parts, and pretty much only realised after finishing the book.
There were some really good quotes and insightful life lessons/observations throughout the novel, and I would include some here, but I’ve returned the book already. You should probably just go read it for yourself. One that I can kind of remember (because I was re-reading it a bit on my way to return it) goes something along the lines of “It’s the truth, even if it didn’t happen”.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It’s not something that everyone would enjoy reading, but it’s certainly a worthwhile read if you have even just a vague interest in psychiatry and the minds of others. It’s truly, truly fascinating. Almost makes me question my own thoughts, perceptions and reactions.