Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Daniel Keyes - Flowers for Algernon (Book Review)

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Warning – this review includes minor spoilers!
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If I had to say only one thing about this work of fiction it would be that it moved me deeply.
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The plot itself is fairly simple, yet the idea for the story is wonderfully original; we follow a sequence of 'progress reports' of a certain scientific experiment to raise one subject's IQ permanently. It is mostly due to the first person point-of-view that the reader is connected so tightly to the main character Charlie Gordon. He is a good-natured and kind person, but not what one would call a bright one (since he only has an IQ of 68). Charlie, however, has a great will to learn and thus presents a unique candidate for the experiment.
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The experiment is considered a success by its conductors and we can observe Charlie's swift evolution in front of our own eyes afterwards - we see him gain vast theoretical knowledge but sadly lacking in its practical and social implementation. The evolution of the subject is done with grace and skill – a reader gets to notice the slight and gradual improvements in the style of writing throughout the book that reaches a whole new level at the end.
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Flowers for Algernon” is in fact a book dealing with man's basic feelings and his dealings with the overwhelming entity that encompasses him and determines his fate - the society. In a way, this is a story about growing up and finding out for yourself that nothing is what it seemed to be when you were young; at the same time it is a story about a bottomless desire to learn and to become a wiser person. This wish lies at the foundations of Charlie's personality, for he is as willing to learn when his IQ is well below average, as well as when his IQ tops the 180 mark. And although everyone tries to convince Charlie that he has changed, he never really does – not in any essential way anyhow.
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The tragic part of the novel is the part that deals with the agony of a man who braces the world in the cup of his hand but at the same time knows that he won't even be able to spell words properly in a short amount of time. Daniel Keyes is an extremely convincing storyteller in my eyes and who managed to bring the main protagonist dangerously close to my irrational side and therefore somewhat sabotaged my earnest intent to do a careful and in-depth analyses of the novel's style and plot (which is what I usually strive for in my reviews). This book feels too vivid and emotive to allow you to do anything else but to read it in one big swallow. It actually begs for a re-read, and that sooner rather than later - which is rare in a book.
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I cannot recommend this strongly enough – even if you're not a big sf&f fan. This book defies being classified, because it would constrict it too much.
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(the second perfect score I gave after "The Terror" by Dan Simmons)
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~ Trin ~

1 Comment:

Jennifer C. said...

Never heard of this book before, but it sure sounds fantastic :) I'm a sucker for sad stories in general.

 

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