In an Oregon mental hospital in the 1960s, Nurse Ratched has a strict hold on the patients. Things start to change with the arrival of McMurphy, an anarchist who strives to break the rules. Fellow patient and narrator Chief Bromden understands McMurphy’s rebellious objective. Nurse Ratched, however, thinks that McMurphy should be corrected.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest highlights our attitudes towards mental health, and the blurred lines between sanity and madness. This edition includes insightful sketches by Ken Kesey.
This novel gains momentum with the arrival of McMurphy who kick-starts the story into action. There are some memorable characters including McMurphy and Nurse Ratched. My favourite character is Chief Bromden, a half-Columbian Indian. He’s quite endearing and has a moving back story.
There’s an intriguing quote by Chief Bromden: “But it’s the truth even if it didn’t happen”. Kesey leaves it open for the reader to decide whether Bromden is a reliable narrator. Although Bromden has hallucinations, these make the story vivid and they don’t negate his experience, which is the truth as he knows it.
Some people claim this book is misogynistic and I can understand why they’ve reached that conclusion. As the villain, Nurse Ratched is a manipulative matriarch. This book was first published in 1962 and it’s a product of its time. Similarly, it’s scary to think of what was considered as mental health “treatments” back then.
Here’s what I thought of the ending: holy smoke! It’s totally unexpected.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is both funny and devastating. It’s easy to accept the status quo, even if it’s unjust, but this book shows that one person can initiate change for the better.
My rating: ★★★★☆