One flew over the cuckoo’s nest

This is the most popular post on my blog by a country mile. And I have no idea why. Perhaps it’s because it’s a popular search term for students or perhaps it’s just one of those books people like to read about.

I thought I’d revisit the review I wrote on the book especially since I saw the movie fairly recently. The book is still pin sharp in my mind some months later and the mood and style of a book is often the thing that endures for me. On top of this, the characters were so beautifully etched that they still shine in my minds eye.

The first thing to note after a late night showing of the cinematic adaptation is that it is actually a very good translation of the book. Of course it won oscars and it featured some incredible performances notably Jack Nicholson with unknown (at the time) actors delivering beautiful performances. All these years, I resisted reading this book because I thought the film would have ruined the book but do you know what? I don’t think it would have. OK, I accept that I did it the other way around which is usually the recipe for disaster but not in this case.

Worth reading the book and seeing the movie then, I don’t think that it matters which order. You choose. They are both telling the same story but in very different ways.

Anyway – here’s my original blog post on the book from earlier this year…

This month’s book club is the less well-known book of the rather famous movie. Most people of a certain age – ie knocking on a bit – will be very familiar with the Jack Nicholson starring, oscar laden celluloid version of the book by Ken Kesey.

But I had reservations about reading this book – I won’t lie.

These reservations were simply that I know the film too well. I’ve seen it countless times – admittedly a few years ago – but the film is a piece of powerful and iconic film making. I was talked round in the end, or perhaps I caved in. Either way, we read it last month.

The first thing to notice is that the book is written from the Chief’s viewpoint. As one of the inmates of the mental hospital, the story being told from his perspective is very different and refreshing from the beginning. The rest of the book has been faithfully told in the film version albeit with the lack of intensity and depth found in literature. Kesey wrote this book in the late 50′s and it speaks of that time – America changing and coming to terms with that change, the onset of the liberal 60′s with all the free love and drugs culture that came with it. It’s a gripping tale of a rebel who gets a bunch of dysfunctional people to function again in some way and it’s a story of sacrifice and human spirit.

The face of Jack Nicholson looms large on every page and although Kesey’s central character doesn’t really resemble Nicholson, it’s hard to shake him off. The true sign of brilliant casting and acting I think. I came to the conclusion that the book was very, very good and that if I’d read it before I’d seen the film it would have scored much higher. I’m not a huge re-reader of books and as a consequence the fact I knew the story well softened the body blows it contains. I scored it a not too shabby 8/10 but it could easily have been a 10.

If you’ve not read it, or not seen the film either, I can highly recommend you read this book.

One word of warning: in the canon of blokey books we have read on our blokes book club, it doesn’t get much blokier. It’s not PC and it contains some language and attitudes that are probably best left in the late 1950′s – but well worth a detour from any sensitive chick lit you might have on the go.

One thought on “One flew over the cuckoo’s nest

  1. Love the movie and remember having to remind myself “it’s only a movie” during the electro shock therapy scene. Wasn’t enthralled with the book, I think it was a little too trippy (isn’t there a reoccurring mist element) for me. Was also underwhelmed by “On the Road” so maybe that was a style that just doesn’t speak to me.

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