Friday, 12 May 2017

Book Review: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

Set in an Oregon psychiatric hospital, one of the patients, Chief Bromden, narrates the sequences of events that follows after RP McMurphy, a rebellious character who fakes insanity to avoid prison, is institutionalized. What follows is complete anarchy as McMurphy attempts to antagonise Nurse Ratched, the head administrative nurse who rules her ward with an iron fist. This story is an intriguing insight into mental health institutions and conformity back in the 1960's and the need to control those who don't quite fit into what is considered to be "normal" in society.

"But it's the truth, even if it didn't happen."

Okay, I'm really going to struggle with regards to writing a review for this book. I actually left it a couple of days so I had time to think about it. I watched this movie years ago and really enjoyed it - another one of my favourite movies of all time is Girl, Interrupted, so you could say I really love books or movies set in mental health institutions. Therefore, I was very excited to start this book... but I don't know, it fell flat. It took a while for me to get into the book, and I wonder if it's because of Kesey's style of writing. It just felt a bit all over the place... This book was also narrated by one of the inmates themselves, a potentially unreliable narrator, which meh...I guess I don't really like. Personally, I just don't think this style of writing works for me, I got very bored at points and would find myself procrastinating numerous other ways. However, the last 50 pages or so were absolutely amazing and built up to an unforgettable ending, which left me feeling even more frustrated because I wish I had loved it that much during the entire book!

After a few days of thinking about it now, the story itself was pretty incredible. The battle between McMurphy and Nurse Ratched was one of the greatest I've encountered in literature. Both were constantly upping the ante, trying to outdo the other. In fact, the scenes focused on the two of them were the parts I loved. I wanted more of that, I guess. McMurphy himself is a conflicting character - this is a guy who has been found guilty of battery and statutory rape, yet at the same time we find ourselves cheering him on once he's on the mental ward. He becomes a martyr for the other patients, pushing them to enjoy themselves and LAUGH again, to fight back against Nurse Ratched. He pretty much sacrifices himself for the good of the other patients. He is someone who doesn't conform and that in itself is admirable.

As for Nurse bothers me slightly that she is depicted as the hard-nosed, stern female, but then again, she is working in a ward full of men and she has a job to do at the end of the day. However, she is also manipulative and controlling, beyond what is really required for her to perform her duties. She makes the men spy and report on each other and then uses these weaknesses to manipulate them in the group meetings - it's pretty difficult to not vouch for McMurphy in this scenario. So yeah, I'm not much of a fan of Nurse Ratched.

I don't know, I think this will be one of those books I try and read again in the future. Perhaps it just wasn't the right time for me to read this, as I think there maybe was the potential for me to love it. The statement it was making in terms of the condition of mental health institutions back in those days was really thought-provoking and scary to consider, particularly the fact that a lot of these patients were drugged and electroshocked into submission. The ending alone was great though, really emotional and hard-hitting. But overall, I feel like I can only give this book 3 stars out of 5!



  1. I hate titles that give away the ending in the title! ��

  2. Great review, I don't think this needs a re-read though. I think you get this book pretty well!


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