Book Review: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest By Ken Kesey.

 

As previously mentioned, I struggled through this book.

Not because it wasn’t well writtenin fact, I loved the narration of protagonist Chief Bromden and the way author Ken Kesey continually used misspelling to take the reader into Bromden’s mindbut because I was so preoccupied with other things, that I didn’t really take notice of what was occurring.

But in a nutshell, the novel deals with patients in a mental hospital, and centres around Bromden, a half-Native American who has been pretending to be deaf and dumb, and fellow resident of the ward Randle McMurphy, the fiery redhead who shakes things up when he is transferred from a prison work farm. Questions arise, specifically from antagonist Nurse Ratched and the doctors, as to whether McMurphy is actually mentally ill, or just uses his pasts crimes to live out the rest of his life in, what he believes is, the cushy Pendleton asylum.

The hospital is anything but, and the antics of its patients conjure up memories of Shawshank Redemption, Prison Break, The Longest Yard and even Toy Story 3! And while none of these films are set in a mental institution per se, they just might have borrowed some inspiration from Cuckoo’s Nest.

McMurphy acts as a sort of vicarious thrill-seeker, and the other patients live their lives through his rebellion. He is also the catalyst for Bromden to reveal he can actually speak and hear, and his fellow patients to stand up for themselves and buck the system.

McMurphy and Nurse Ratched become involved in a power struggle, with McMurphy taking on the role of leader to the patients, and ultimately, he attacks Ratched, strangling her and taking away her most powerful toolher voiceand McMurphy is given a lobotomy.

During the absence of both the nurse and their leader, most of Pendleton’s residents check out, and those who do stay to witness their returnthe nurse unable to speak, and thus control her patients, and McMurphy in a “chronic” vegetative statesoon leave. But not before Bromden suffocates McMurphy in his sleep, so that he can die with some dignity. Bromden then leaves to rejoin his tribe.

Kesey uses the residents to illustrate the injustices of mental patients, having spent time working as an orderly in one, where he took LSD and Peyote as part of Project MKUltra, an illegal CIA human research program to “manipulate individual mental states”.

Nurse Ratched, in particular, is so craftily subtle in how she goes about controlling the men, that most of them aren’t even aware she is doing so. In Foucaultian terms, this type of manipulation can be damaging on a “broad social scale”, as it encourages censorship of one’s actions.

All in all, I quite liked (what bits I did pick up through a distracted reading of) the book, and I’m a bit of a sucker for a story with a message. Unlike A Clockwork Orange or something along those obscure lines, the story was written in a straightforward manner and was (mostly) a pleasure to read.

Related: Newspaper Clipping of LAST Week.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Anthony Burgess Review.

Elsewhere: [Wikipedia] Project MKUltra.

[Wikipedia] One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (novel).

Book Review: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

 

I was wary of reading Anthony Burgess’s 1962 novella A Clockwork Orange. Who isn’t aware of its unbridled sexual and physical violence, but come on, it’s a classic! But, like many classics I’ve read over the years, I’m glad to have read it and to forget it.

I find the most enjoyable novels, for me at least, are those that are effortless to read. You don’t have to try to analyse what’s going on; it just falls in your lap through the author’s sheer skill. There may be themes and a “moral to the story”, but they don’t present themselves obviously and analytically; the pieces of the puzzle you weren’t even aware were there just fit together like a jigsaw.

A Clockwork Orange was not one of these novel(las).

Now, I’m not arguing that it doesn’t serve a purpose in pop culture as a manifesto of youth culture, violence, government and free will, just that it’s bloody hard to read!

I’m not a fan of the “new speech that is the teenage slang of the not-too-distant future” Burgess uses, a fictional language called Nadsat combined with Russian, that encompasses such phrases as “horrorshow” (good), “malenky” (little), “malchicks” (boy), “viddy” (see), “plenny” (prisoner), “tolchok” (beat) and “veshch” (thing). I find they distract from the story because you have to annoyingly search your brain (or, at least, the dictionary some copies come with to help decipher the prose) to understand what the hell narrator Alex is talking about!

I also watched the movie, which I had great expectations for, however, when I told some friends and family I was going to be reviewing the movie, I was met with words of warning. The guy at the library said it was disturbing, and my mother told me to watch it in the day. And so I did.

The time of day I watched it didn’t make much of a difference to the eerie subject matter and graphic scenes and the way I felt afterwards. Much like with the book, I felt deflated and uncomfortable at the end.

The final scene, though, was my favouriteno, not just because it was finally over after 120-plus minutes! Malcolm McDowell who plays Alex really showcases his range as an actor throughout the film, but specifically in this scene. His sinister reaction at being in hospital in a full body cast after jumping from a window at the sound of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, a recurring theme in the tale, is priceless. Ultimately, the film ends with Alex being informed he has recovered from the experiment, and he sarcastically looks into the camera, saying “I was cured, alright”, followed by a rousing performance of the repeated “Singin’ in the Rain”

The overt and excessive use of nudity was a bit much and would be out of place in a B-, C-, or even D-list movie, let alone one of A Clockwork Orange’s canonical calibre.

I will compliment Stanley Kubric on directing with such simplicity, which I think is what really tipped the film over the edge into the realm hard-hitting filmmaking.

I would recommend seeing the film and reading the book for those of you who haven’t already, just to recognise what all the fuss wasand isabout.

Personally, I don’t.

Book Review: Dog Boy by Eva Hornung

I’d been wanting to read the award-winning Dog Boy ever since it was published early last year, and I was lucky enough to pick it up half-price at my trusty second-hand bookstore some months later. Only recently did I fish it from the mounting pile of books to read and it was well worth the wait.

The book begins with four-year-old Romochka waking up to an abandoned apartment he shares with his mother and uncle in Moscow. For the next few days he stays in his dilapidated building, following his mother’s orders to “Don’t go near people. Don’t talk to strangers”, until that is no longer an option and he is forced to fend for himself in the outside world.

Romochka soon stumbles across a street dog, and follows her to her lair, christening her Mamochka. There he becomes part of the dog family, consisting initially of Mamochka, Black Dog, Golden Bitch and a litter of puppies who Romochka names White Sister, Black Sister, Grey Brother and Brown Brother. Another litter, the death of Brown Brother and, unbelievably enough, a new “dog boy”, a baby Romochka calls Puppy, fill out the 290 page novel.

Romochka forms a special kinship with White Sister as they spend two blistering winters roaming the streets for food, enduring the abduction and torture by privileged (at least in comparison to Romochka or the “bomzhi” [street kids]) “house boys”, until he and Puppy are captured and taken under the wing of doctor Dmitry and his partner Natalya.

Hornung’s gruesomely described accounts of Romochka’s life with the pack, which made me cringe in anticipation whilst devouring it on public transport, really give the reader a sense of the connection between not just Romochka and his dogs, but man and dog in general.

This is a fantastic book, and I would recommend it to anyone, but especially animal and dog lovers. As my friend Tess, a fellow animal and booklover said: “This is definitely my kind of book… but I’ll have to wait til uni holidays to read it!” In exchange for True Blood DVDs and Dog Boy, she has lent me A Clockwork Orange and George Orwell’s Animal Farm, so stay tuned for upcoming reviews on both of those and their big screen adaptations.