‘Flowers for Algernon’ Daniel Keyes

flowersforalgernon

The classic novel about a daring experiment in human intelligence Charlie Gordon, IQ 68, is a floor sweeper and the gentle butt of everyone’s jokes – until an experiment in the enhancement of human intelligence turns him into a genius. But then Algernon, the mouse whose triumphal experimental transformation preceded his, fades and dies, and Charlie has to face the possibility that his salvation was only temporary.

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Y’know, I’m ever so slightly concerned that the list creatively entitled ‘Jazz’s Top Reads of 2017’ is filled with books I wouldn’t have even considered reading if it hadn’t been for the recommendations of friends. Flowers for Algernon is one such book. It’s a relatively short novel, totaling a mere 216 pages, but, man, do those pages pack a punch! Flowers for Algernon is a book that has a number of important ideas lacing its words and these ideas are still relevant today, 58 years later (see, I can math!), making it something I recommend to all readers, regardless of preferred genre.

Flowers for Algernon is written from a first person perspective and our narrator is Charlie Gordon, a young man who chronicles his experiences through a written progress report which we, the readers, are reading. I found this method of narration extremely effective for a number of reasons. Firstly, the first few progress reports are written in a way that makes you truly feel as though you are reading the report entries of a man with an IQ of 68. The spelling is often incorrect, there’s no grammar and it’s difficult to understand. The latter point especially conveys the difficulties Charlie initially has with communicating with those around him and, as a result, a reader’s sympathy is immediately evoked. Furthermore, following Charlie’s operation, we see the quality of writing improving and it creates this sense that you and Charlie are one and the same almost, experiencing this often traumatic journey side-by-side and in real time. For me, this meant I connected to Charlie and this is what made it such an engaging and emotive read for me.

I found Flowers for Algernon to be an interesting exploration into the way in which people with mental and learning disabilities are treated in society. We need only look to recent cases of discrimination – such as a 2016 case in which a dyslexic Starbucks employee was left feeling suicidal after being given lesser duties due to difficulties with reading and writing – to see that this is still very much a problem in modern day society. Charlie is frequently talked about as though he’s just the result of an experiment and wasn’t a person in and of himself prior to his operation. He’s mocked, he’s patronised and often faced physical abuse as a child simply for being who he was. Why is Charlie treated like this when he’s a person with an IQ of 68, yet not when he’s a so-called ‘genius’? Can a person’s ill treatment be justified by their apparently low intelligence? No, of course not. Such treatment is immoral and inhumane and Flowers for Algernon seeks to make readers understand that. Each and every one of us is a person, regardless of our intelligence or ability.

Before his operation, Charlie is beyond excited to become smart and to be able to read and write like other people. This excitement makes later scenes all the more heartbreaking. Charlie truly believes he’ll be happier when he’s academically intelligent and the truth is, he’s simply not. At the beginning of the novel, although he has a low IQ, Charlie is kind, gentle and friendly to all he meets. After the operation, he becomes something other, something other than CharlieHe loses himself in the process and Charlie’s experience serves as a lesson to us all; sometimes – not all the time, admittedly – we don’t see what we have until we don’t have it anymore.

Flowers for Algernon is heartbreakingly beautiful and, as I said at the beginning of this review, has found its way onto my top reads of 2017 list.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Song: Keaton Henson’s You don’t know how lucky you are (get the tissues ready, guys)

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This book is available on Amazon in both e-reader and paperback format.

17 thoughts on “‘Flowers for Algernon’ Daniel Keyes

    1. A dangerous albeit much needed shelf! 😛 Sometimes you find the best books on those kinds of shelves! I had to really think about this review for a couple of days. I really wanted to do the book justice. I’ll be interested in hearing your thoughts on it!

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    1. It’s great, isn’t it? I’ve read so many books this year that I would have never dreamed of choosing and it’s meant I’ve been able to read more widely. I recently discovered I enjoy classic sci fi, for example. If someone had told me that last year I would have laughed in their face 😛 What book has surprised you lately? 🙂

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      1. Hahaha that’s awesome! I need to try classic sci-fi sometime 😊
        Oh I think The Kiss of Deception! I thought it was going to be all about romance and a crappy love triangle but it was so, so much more: incredible plot, complex politics, really balanced characters… A real treat ❤

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    1. To be honest, I hadn’t even heard of it before it was recommended it to me. The school I went to mostly focused on texts like ‘Of Mice and Men’ and ‘Wuthering Heights’. I’m surprised I didn’t read it at university, though!

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      1. I know, right!? Have you ever read ‘Jane Eyre’? I think that’s my favourite Bronte novel. Pretty depressing to begin with but it has a happy ending at least!

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  1. Hmhh… The title rings a bell but I’ve never read this book… and now i want to… damn it.. I have to… I’ve been in a dangerous life slump recently so haven’t done sweet FA in terms of reading… meaning my tbr pile is reaching critical timelines and yet it keeps getting added to 😀 The joys!
    Great review… I shall defo get this book! But before that.. I’m going to dive into the Lords of the Underworld wolrd 🙂 haha… and your poetry! AND! I got a freebie titled: “The Hottest Gay Man Ever Killed in a Shark Attack!” I simply could not pass it 😀

    The Starbucks case sounds horrible though, I have close people who are dyslexics and I know what they had to endure during their school years and it’s just not right. People just take the smallest of things and turn their nose up at it- I hate it! The ‘standards’ by which we measure a successful human seems to be off completely… we all have different skills and the dyslexics I know have qualities about them I admire.

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    1. Ah I know that dreaded slump all too well! Hopefully this will the book to get you out of that slump 😛 Skip the books that were in the TBR pile and read ‘Flowers for Algernon’ next 😛 I’m reading a book currently that I think you might enjoy. I know you enjoy weird and wacky reads 😀
      I saw you added LotU to your TBR list on Goodreads! 😀 The first book is good, but not mindblowing so don’t let it deter you from reading the rest of the series! Also, ‘The Hottest Gay Man Ever Killed in a Shark Attack’. Now that is a review I definitely want to read 😛
      Exactly! The so called ‘standards’ we measure intelligence by are bullshit. As you rightfully say, we all have different skills. If you put a goldfish next to a tree and tell it to climb it, it’s not gonna be able to do it but it doesn’t mean it’s any less talented as a swimmer! Academic intelligence is worthless in the grand scheme of things. There are far more important things to take into consideration!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oooh? what’s thsi weird and wacky book? I look forward to the review 🙂
        So glad you agree on the ‘academic intelligence’ thing… I mean, I know someone who only has 6 classes of education and they’ve been successful in their business venture for decades! It really makes one think that if you#re good at something, don’t sweat about the other things and what society expects and just do your thing and flourish at it! 🙂

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      2. The review should be up in the next few days or so 😉 I’m in a mini reading slump at the moment so it’s taking me a bit longer than usual 😛
        Exactly! Isn’t it Alan Sugar as well who got one GCSE, but is one of the most successful businessman in this country, if not the world? It’s like me and my writing, for example. I have a joint honours degree in English Lit and Creative Writing, but I was saying to someone only the other day that it’s just a piece of paper. I would still be a writer without or without that ‘qualification’ and know so, so many people who are!

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