- Paperback: 224 pages
- Publisher: Gateway; New Ed edition (13 Jan. 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1857989384
- ISBN-13: 978-1857989380
- Product Dimensions: 17 x 1.8 x 20.1 cm
- Average Customer Review: 458 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,716 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Flowers For Algernon (S.F. MASTERWORKS) Paperback – 13 Jan 2000
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Daniel Keyes wrote little SF but is highly regarded for one classic, Flowers for Algernon. As a 1959 novella it won a Hugo award; the 1966 novel-length expansion won a Nebula. The Oscar-winning movie adaptation Charly (1968) also spawned a 1980 Broadway musical.
Following his doctor's instructions, engaging simpleton Charlie Gordon tells his own story in a semi-literate "progris riports". He dimly wants to better himself but with an IQ of 68 can't even beat the laboratory mouse Algernon at maze-solving:
I dint feel bad because I watched Algernon and I lernd how to finish the amaze even if it takes me along time.
I dint know mice were so smart.
Algernon is extra-clever thanks to an experimental brain operation so far tried only on animals. Charlie eagerly volunteers as the first human subject. After frustrating delays and agonies of concentration, the effects begin to show and the reports steadily improve: "Punctuation, is fun!" But getting smarter brings cruel shocks, as Charlie realises that his merry "friends" at the bakery where he sweeps the floor have all along been laughing at him, never with him. The IQ rise continues, taking him steadily past the human average to genius level and beyond, until he's as intellectually alone as the old, foolish Charlie ever was--and now painfully aware of it. Then, ominously, the smart mouse Algernon begins to deteriorate ...
A timeless tear-jerker with a terrific emotional impact, Flowers for Algernon is the 25th choice in the millennium SF Masterworks series. --David Langford
This is one of the greats: a story and a central character that have stayed with me for thirty years, from the first moment I picked it up (Conn Iggulden)
A masterpiece of poignant brilliance . . . heartbreaking, and utterly, completely brilliant (Guardian)
A timeless tearjerker (Independent)
Excellent . . . extremely moving (The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction)
Unflinchingly honest . . . it will make you reflect on your own life . . . and completely and utterly break your heart (Guardian Online)
A narrative tour de force, very moving, beautiful and remorseless in its simple logic (Science Fiction, 100 Best Novels)
Strikingly original (Publishers Weekly)
A tale that is convincing, suspectful and touching (New York Times)
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I first read 'Flowers For Algernon' after my youngest brother told me about it, at the time he was reading it at school and he enjoyed it.
'Flowers For Algernon' is a great story, the story of Charlie and the changes he goes through spoke to me. Charlie (for me) is one of the memorable characters of literature, he's likeable, kind, determined, and that was before his life changing experiment, after the operation Charlie does change, he becomes aware, confident, learning new subjects and skills but I felt the essence of who Charlie was, was lost. Charlie also learns more about his past and its heart breaking to read, he was so misunderstood and so easily forgotten by his own family, he deserved better.
Charlie's plight shows how difficult it can be living in a world where you are an individual who may or not may be accepted, someone to be laughed at, I felt bad for Charlie as he realised the nature of his relationships with people he called friends but did not treat him like one.
'Flowers For Algernon' explores different subjects and it is a interesting read, you want Charlie to be happy and to find the answers he deserves. The ending will stay with you.
Category: Science fiction, Emotional
Synopsis: Algernon is no ordinary lab mouse – scientists have performed a pioneering experiment to exponentially increase his intelligence. Charlie is a man with learning difficulties working as a cleaner in a bakery. He longs for a higher IQ, believing it will make him feel more equal to those around him and is to become the experiment’s first human test subject. It opens up a world previously closed to him, but Charlie soon learns that increasing IQ is too simplistic an approach to solve the complexities of human emotions and relationships. With Algernon’s behaviour also becoming more erratic, Charlie’s future looks increasingly uncertain…
Why I Read It
I have mentioned previously on Miscellany Pages my prejudice against science fiction. Too often, I find the genre crosses a line of “weirdness” that alienates me. However, a friend at book club was so enthusiastic about Flowers for Algernon that I felt I had no other choice but to put aside my snobby sci-fi misgivings. I am so glad I did.
The unusual title of Flowers for Algernon immediately marks the book as something unique. I love titles that make me feel uncertain to start with but become clear and give more meaning towards the ending of the story. The unusual way in which the novel is written as a series of progress reports, from Charlie’s point of view, also created a feeling that I would enjoy the book as something fresh and new.
Far from the world of cold, hard science, Keyes writes in a beautiful style reminiscent of poetry and art. This is one of my favourite quotations, in which Charlie describes the experience of making love:
"The universe was exploding, each particle away from the next, hurtling us into dark and lonely space, eternally tearing us away from each other – child out of the womb, friend away from friend, moving from each other, each through his own pathway toward the goal-box of solitary death. But this was the counterweight, the act of binding and holding."
The sci-fi plot is far less central to the power of this novel than the ideas is allows Keyes to explore. There are so many ethical issues surrounding the experiment to increase intelligence, and it made me consider the concept in a way I never had before.
Can we measure intelligence?
Can we even truly define it?
Does our society place too much value on intelligence?
Many other issues are also explored in the story, particularly through the achingly sad exploration of loneliness. Charlie is alienated in so many ways, both before and after his operation, and at times his treatment is a harrowing example of the human capacity for cruelty. This made me question whether he was happier before the experiment, when he remained blissfully unaware of this cruelty. It is moving that he learns the value of human connection at the moments when it seems most to be slipping away from him.
Factors I normally look for in the ending of a book include how surprising or unpredictable it is. The ending of this story is neither, yet a sense of inevitability somehow enhances its power. My engagement did not waver for a moment – a testament to the allure of Keyes’ writing.
The way in which readers can only view the story through Charlie’s eyes adds to the absorbing way in which his character develops into an almost entirely different person throughout the novel. He forms very few new relationships, but those present from the beginning become irrevocably altered by his sudden spike in IQ. The complexity of these relationships, particularly between Charlie and his former teacher Alice, for me became the most enjoyable part of the story.
I use the light term ‘enjoyable’ advisedly. Flowers for Algernon is an intense, unrelenting emotional experience that made me shed genuine tears. I have never read a science fiction novel with so much heart.
"But I know now there’s one thing you’ve all overlooked: intelligence and education that hasn’t been tempered by human affection isn’t worth a damn."
I cant remember who or why this was recommended to me but I really really enjoyed it. Ive read it once and cant wait to pick it up again in a few years. Its a fairly simple read, in that it isnt the longest book, but it certainly has a strong emotional drive. Has a very unusual start to the book and took me more than a few minutes to get used to the writing style - but it is justified in its difficulty to read and gives plenty opportunity to empathise with the protagonist as his journey begins.
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