Ken Kaseys 1962 novel “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” is probably better known for the 1975 motion picture adaptation starring Jack Nicholson. It tells the story of Randle “Mac” McMurphy who becomes institutionalised after various convictions for assault, gambling and suspected statutory rape. The book is narrated by one of Mac’s fellow inmates “Chief” Bromden who spends the majority of the story pretending to be mute in order to avoid conflict with the workers at the institution. The staff and inmates suspect Bromden of being deaf and mute which allows him to gleam some of the hospitals dirtier secrets.
From day one, Mac finds himself at loggerheads with the wards totalitarian administrative nurse who had previously ruled the ward with an iron fist and they begin to find themselves in a constant escalating battle with each other.
I know I’ve seen the film when I was younger, but as I picked up the book, I could not for the life of me remember anything about it. I think most people know the ending, it’s unfortunately just one of those iconic pop culture movie endings that you just can’t escape (just in case you don’t know what happens, don’t worry, I won’t spoil it for you here) but I’m kind of glad I’d forgotten everything else. When you read something like this with fresh eyes it means your opinion is not overly influenced by comparisons to the film, and I suppose that works both ways.
I loved this book, it’s so well written and yet such an easy read. It’s rare that in a book with this many characters that they’d be as well written as this; but both the characters and their interpersonal relationships are completely engaging – In particular the feuding subtle war between the protagonist Mac and the seemingly evil Nurse Ratched. With the creation of Nurse Mildred Ratched, Kasey has created one of the most evil characters committed to literally fiction.
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