Thursday 4 February 2021

Flowers for Algernon


This book is stunningly good. I'd heard the name many times, it's one of those literary classics, but I didn't really know what it was. I was in the mood for something old school and saw it on sale:

Charlie Gordon is about to embark upon an unprecedented journey. Born with an unusually low IQ, he has been chosen as the perfect subject for an experimental surgery that researchers hope will increase his intelligence-a procedure that has already been highly successful when tested on a lab mouse named Algernon.

As the treatment takes effect, Charlie's intelligence expands until it surpasses that of the doctors who engineered his metamorphosis. The experiment appears to be a scientific breakthrough of paramount importance, until Algernon suddenly deteriorates. Will the same happen to Charlie?

It was originally published in 1959 and won both a Hugo and Nebula award. It honestly feels timeless, as though it could have been written last year. 

Truly surprising and so well written. Looking at how society views intelligence, from mental retardation, through the spectrum of 'normality' to the upper echelons of genius. How being smart doesn't always make you happy. And also, the role intelligence plays in memory and interpreting memories.

"I'll put you away in a cage like an animal for the rest of your life. Do you hear me?"

I still hear her, but perhaps I had been released. Maybe the fear and nausea were no longer a sea to drown in but only a pool of water reflecting the past alongside the now.

It's such a good book.

Regular readers will know my obsession with Hotel Del Luna, the Korean soap, and there's a line in this, 'the last things learned are first things forgotten,' which just took me right back to when Man-wol was crossing the bridge and forgetting her life until she ends up with the rawest memories, and only when she can let go of those is she free to continue to her next life. 

There's a later 1990 film called Awakenings with Robert De Niro and Robin Williams, about a catatonic patient who is brought back to the world, then regresses again. Sort of a similar concept, but different in the telling. This is a little bit gentler, but still as poignant.

Highly recommend this.

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