Date Published: 1963
Goodreads Synopsis: In this classic of the 1960s, Ken Kesey’s hero is Randle Patrick McMurphy, a boisterous, brawling, fun-loving rebel who swaggers into the world of a mental hospital and takes over. A lusty, life-affirming fighter, McMurphy rallies the other patients around him by challenging the dictatorship of Nurse Ratched. He promotes gambling in the ward, smuggles in wine and women, and openly defies the rules at every turn. But this defiance, which starts as a sport, soon develops into a grim struggle, an all-out war between two relentless opponents: Nurse Ratched, back by the full power of authority, and McMurphy, who has only his own indomitable will. What happens when Nurse Ratched uses her ultimate weapon against McMurphy provides the story’s shocking climax.
My View: This book was on my TBR list for so long. The very first reason being it was set in an asylum. Being a clinical psychologist by profession, I try and read as many fiction books on mental illness as I can, a) because they interest me, b) I am hoping they give a real picture of the situation and the illness to create awareness among the laymen, c) I want to keep re-sensitizing myself so that I don’t become a technician and forget the person across the table has emotions and to empathize truly with what is going on with him/ her (though this isn’t very likely but sometimes I find that knowing how it feels like from the point of the person involved really helps keep me rooted and be motivated again and again to do my best at work). Anyhow, I had picked it up around 5 years back, couldn’t get into it. Finally gave up and watched the movie first, which is usually not what happens. I keep postponing the movie until I read the book (no wonder I watched Shutter Island last year and am still to watch Lord of the Rings and so many more movies!). But I wanted to try yet again and hence issued this book out of my library.
When I began reading, this book felt like a lot of work. I just couldn’t get into it. But I was determined to finish it this time around. The book dragged on till around 80 pages! After which it really picked up and my perseverance paid off. There really was no looking back. Am I happy to get it out of the way? You bet. Did I like it? I did, I really did. Am I going to pick it up again for a re-read? Umm, I doubt that very much. Not because it doesn’t deserve a second read but because it’s sad. In fact, I would go ahead and say this book is downright depressing. I didn’t feel this way after watching the movie (if memory serves me right). However, I understand that with a book, you feel more close to the character than a movie because you can read their thoughts and know them better than a movie ever allows. At times, I felt like abandoning the book in between, not because it wasn’t interesting but because I felt this was not going to go where I wanted it to. And I almost wanted to hold the author’s pen and drive it away from where he was taking it. The characters are so breathlessly etched that I felt so close to them. They were like family whom I wanted to save from anything and everything. No wonder after I finished reading, I just lay on my bed for 2 hours and did absolutely nothing. I felt like all my energy had drained, I felt really sad and I just wanted to move onto another book to distract myself from what this book had led me through.
Not to say, the book is all sad. There are many moments when I laughed. It’s quite funny at times, really. It’s interesting to know that Kesey got inspired to write this book after his time spent as a part-time aide at a psychiatric hospital. The book really does give you food for thought although it doesn’t represent the true picture of mental illness but perhaps it does portray the true reality of asylums during that time.
I do recommend giving it a read but not if you are already feeling low or have no intention of wanting to feel sad.
American writer, who gained world fame with his novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest(1962, filmed 1975). In the 1960s, Kesey became a counterculture hero and a guru of psychedelic drugs with Timothy Leary. Kesey has been called the Pied Piper, who changed the beat generation into the hippie movement.
Ken Kesey was born in La Junta, CO, and brought up in Eugene, OR. Kesey spent his early years hunting, fishing, swimming; he learned to box and wrestle, and he was a star football player. He studied at the University of Oregon, where he acted in college plays. On graduating he won a scholarship to Stanford University. Kesey soon dropped out, joined the counterculture movement, and began experimenting with drugs. In 1956 he married his school sweetheart, Faye Haxby.
Kesey attended a creative writing course taught by the novelist Wallace Stegner. His first work was an unpublished novel, ZOO, about the beatniks of the North Beach community in San Francisco. Tom Wolfe described in his book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968) Kesey and his friends, called the Merry Pranksters, as they traveled the country and used various hallucinogens. Their bus, called Furthur, was painted in Day-Glo colors. In California Kesey’s friends served LSD-laced Kool-Aid to members of their parties.
At a Veterans’ Administration hospital in Menlo Park, California, Kesey was paid as a volunteer experimental subject, taking mind-altering drugs and reporting their effects. These experiences as a part-time aide at a psychiatric hospital, LSD sessions – and a vision of an Indian sweeping there the floor – formed the background for One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, set in a mental hospital. While writing the work, and continuing in the footsteps of such writers as Thomas De Quincy (Confessions of an English Opium Eater, 1821), Aldous Huxley (The Doors of Perception, 1954), and William S. Burroughs (Naked Lunch, 1959), Kesey took peyote. The story is narrated by Chief Bromden. Into his world enters the petty criminal and prankster Randall Patrick McMurphy with his efforts to change the bureaucratic system of the institution, ruled by Nurse Ratched.
The film adaptation of the book gained a huge success. When the film won five Academy Awards, Kesey was barely mentioned during the award ceremonies, and he made known his unhappiness with the film. He did not like Jack Nicholson, or the script, and sued the producers.