Sunday, October 27, 2013
56. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
I know this is a highly unusual book to kick-start my Halloween readings this year, but the book easily earns its place amongst the spookiest and the creepiest books out there. Nurse Ratched has easily made its mark as one of the most well known (if hated or feared or both) literary characters. I saw and recognised the Cuckoo setting in the "The Real Slim Shady" video, long before I ever read the book (even if I am unsure if Eminem ever formally recognised the inspiration). And then, there was the Jack Nicholson starrer movie version, not to mention countless references in books, TV Series and movies.
At a superficial level, the book is about a tug of war between the infamous Nurse Ratched (also referred to as the Big Nurse) and the incorrigible McMurphy. The anti-authoritarian stand Ken Kesey takes through this book is quite obvious and very, very well done - in sheer literary value and impact, it is just a notch below Orwell's 1984, less Dystopian and more realistic, which probably makes it scarier?
And then you start peeling and keep peeling and you are never sure how deep the rabbit hole goes. From the physically very feminine Nurse Ratched's sheer dominance over everyone else in the Institution - patients, other nurses, ward-boys, doctors, etc. to the imaginary (?) "Combine" the Chief is so afraid of.
There is a very obviously sexist tone to the book I didn't really care much about, but I will put it down to the times in which the book was written and move on, which is probably easier for me to do as a guy.
The ending of the book is no less powerful, quite Kafkaesque in its tragedy if you ask me, but probably absolutely necessary for the message to get across.