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on 10 September 2017
Can it really be 50 years since the publication of this book, I remember my first reading in the mid 70's and it has been a great pleasure, and a walk down memory lane, to once again make the acquaintance of the residents of an Oregon Psychiatric Hospital and in particular one Randle P McMurphy. Most people will remember the 1976 movie and the electric performance of Jack Nicholson as the audacious and colourful "Mack", in a movie that won many awards. The book has lost none of its magic even now reading the it so many years later, and the emotions that it can produce are still very real.

McMurphy is moved to the mental institution from a prison farm where he was serving a sentence for the rape of a 15 year old girl. Although he is not mentally ill, he is hoping to avoid hard labour and serve the rest of his sentence in a relaxed environment. The life of the rest of the inmates is now turned on its head as McMurphy proceeds to wreck havoc in an attempt to control and alter the mundane existence of lethargic and inactive inmates...."We are lunatics from the hospital up the highway, psychoceramics, the cracked pots of mankind."....The only obstacle standing between Mack and his dreams is the formidable figure of the steely strict Nurse Ratched....."Her face is still calm, as though she had a cast made and painted to just the look she wants. Confident, patient, and unruffled."...

The story is told in the first person through the eyes of one long term resident Chief Bromden a tall native American believed to be deaf and mute. Through a series of minor misdemeanours and coercion McMurphy is hoping to breakdown the stranglehold of power that Nurse Rached holds over the inmates, who are dulled and kept under control by the constant and daily consumption of medication. It would therefore appear that the prime function of the institution is to manage, by this use of drugs, the minds and temperaments of the residents, rather than try to rehabilitate them and reintroducing them back into society where they might once again make a useful contribution. If the use of drugs and stimulants fails to pacify the disturbed mind the institution is willing to apply electroshock therapy and in the most severe cases a lobotomy is performed.

This is a book fully entrenched in the methods and institutions of its time. It is also a story of power and authority, those who wheel it and those who would attempt to question it by any means possible. It is a wonderful and colourful narration, strong and memorable characters, essentially funny yet ultimately sad. To me Randle P McMurphy is more than a comic figure, he chooses to question the reality and sense of his surroundings and by doing so set himself on the road to confrontation with the soulless Nurse Ratched and ultimately there can only be one winner, and an ending that is both shocking and captivating. Highly Recommended.
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on 26 January 2018
I had to think about things for a long time before I got round to deciding how to rate this book. There were moments while reading that I felt like it was a true masterpiece, and there were moments that I felt uninterested and quite confused. I have actually seen both the film and the play (both of which I loved) in action before reading, so I already had a very clear idea of how the story played out, but I don't think my feelings would be different if I was coming into reading the book with fresh eyes. Randle Patrick McMurphy was such a character and despite his obviously devilish, sneaky ways I fell for him as soon as he entered the book. Meanwhile, Nurse Ratched is probably one of the most terrifying villains I've ever come across in a book and I'm finding it tough to imagine any character ever beating her in this. Her calm, icy demeanour played off against McMurphy's fiery, quick-thinking personality perfectly and I adored watching them try to outsmart each other. These two were an example of perfect characterisation and I thought it particularly meaningful that the 'hero' was a conniving petty criminal, and the villain a supposedly charitable nurse who dedicates her life to 'helping' people. Chief Bromden was an interesting character but I wish less time had been dedicated to his slightly bizarre thoughts/memories and he'd had a little more to do. Kesey wrote well enough and built his world spectacularly also, but I'm afraid to say the overall message didn't wash so well with me. There is a lot of very racist, misogynistic language to be found in this novel and it has a very clearly symbolised anti-feminist tone that also conveyed a lot of hatred towards society as a whole. A lot of this was left out of the aforementioned film and play and so I didn't realise quite what I was getting myself into until I started reading. Although I think this book was cleverly written and did bring some brilliant moments to the table, it lost itself in the message it was trying to convey.
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on 15 February 2017
I bought this book 24 years ago when I was in university – a paperback with Jack Nicholson on the cover – but never got around to reading it. In those days, I had a side interest in beat and hippy writers and had heard about Ken Kesey through his association with the Grateful Dead. With the book collecting dust on my shelf, I saw the movie on TV and enjoyed it. I decided to finally read the novel after see footage of Ken Kesey being interviewed by Charlie Rose.

It took me a while to warm to the story, but I came to like it and in places found it gripping. What amazes me most is that Kesey had it published when he was just 24. That’s incredible. It’s an extremely mature book for someone that young. Whatever stylistic issues Kesey has, he cleverly hides them by speaking through the narrator, Chief Bromden, an asylum inmate who’s been given so many pills and rounds of electric shock therapy that he sometimes sees the walls crawling with machinery, part of the apparatus that controls the world: the Combine. The section I liked best was the Chief’s description of being shocked, his characterization of his hallucinations and flashbacks to growing up on a reserve in Oregon, one which the federal government destroyed in order to build a dam. That part of the novel is brilliant.

Indeed, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is really good – and all about oppression. The Combine is not precisely a hallucination. Rather, in a sense, it is real. True, you can interpret the novel in many ways. For example, it could be seen as an attack on quackery and classifying people who are different or troubled as insane (sort of like a fictionalized account of Foucault’s criticisms), or you could view it as metaphoric, i.e. Nurse Ratched as representing authority; authority that seems educated, civilized, and working in your interest, but which is actually moronic, corrupt, bitter, sexually repressed, brutal, and even lethal; an authority that rules through fear and retribution. Sound familiar? The Combine is more than the hallucination of the Chief, a former solider turned depressive. As a metaphor for the madness and injustice of society, I think the story is horrifying – and necessary.

Troy Parfitt is the author of Why China Will Never Rule the World and War Torn: Adventures in the Brave New Canada
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on 23 April 2014
I struggled with this book; I had no sympathy for the characters for most of it. the writing style reminded me of Stephen King without any of the intrigue. it dragged unbelievably, I found myself frustrated by McMurphy, in fact the only time I found him somewhat likable was when he took them on the boat trip. It was only the other characters that redeemed him at all. I must applaud Kesey for creating individual and unique representations of males. But at the same time I just couldn't connect. I will admit that I was bored. Maybe it's because I have worked on an acute ward, and things like this don't happen anymore. I remember the lecturers always telling us, don't be like Nurse Ratched, that is not what a Mental health nurse does. And I completely understand that, she was dreadful.
I understand the message, but unfortunately some positions in periods of time provide power to the weaker bullies of the world.
However, the resolution of the Ratched problem grated on me. Why did exposing her femininity weaken her hold over the ward? Surely her being a woman, rather her draconian attitude to mental illness, by treating the men like children.
So, to round up...
At first I thought this was dull, I had absolutely no connection at all; I perserved, more because I had to rather than wanted to. And I was rightly informed, it does get better. In the last 70 or so pages, whem the pace increases, the characters become more likable- when the actual plot appears; rather than casually plodding along, telling the story of 30 mens' injustices of beimg treated like children. One rude, obnoxious man giving them hope that they can be the same.
Then suddenly it leapt to life, and McMurphy made sense; I got him, I understood everything.
I'm glad I perserved- but I won't be reading this again.
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on 27 November 2017
Another tick on my list of books to read / reread before I go and I am so glad that I got around to it.
I think that everything there is to say about it is said elsewhere, by other reviewers, far more eloquently than I could, but this is a truly great work and, even though it is of its time, it still stands up well.
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on 18 September 2012
I found this novel absolutely fascinating after I had become used to the psychedelic style of writing (it took about four or five pages). After that, it was hard to put the (Kindle) book down. My own experience if psychiatric hospital (sectioned and then voluntary for several months) means I find some aspects of this story recognisable. It is worth adding though that mental nurses work in teams. The psychiatrists in my experience are more likely than the nurses to play the power card, because they are consultants and at the top of their tree. And they are answerable to no one.

The characters in this novel are very engaging and likely to make readers more empathetic towards and concerned about psychiatric patients.

McMurphy comes across as a much more enigmatic person than he does in the film. His well-concealed fatigue is noted by Chief Bromden, even in the midst of the McMurphy high jinks. Bromden's observation creates the impression that McMurphy is being quite strategic about his approach to his fellow patients. He is seeking the best way to draw each one out. Ironically, McMurphy is therefore the best therapist in the ward--better than the doctors or nurses. He understands what makes each patient ticks, and most of them come alive in response to his encouragement as a result. Another irony is that this generosity costs McMurphy everything.
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on 1 February 2018
Taken me a long time to get around to reading this, having given up in the 70s the first time I attempted to read it. Ken Kesey paints a lurid picture of mental hospitals in the early 60s. Unlike the film, this story is told through the eyes and mind of the Chief. If you love the film then you will love this even more.

Ray Smillie
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on 11 October 2011
Although there is a serious side to this book, namely the miss treatment of the clinically insane in institutions of the mid 1900s, Ken Kesey has written this in such away that this historical aspect can be held in the background, allowing the reader to enjoy the conflict and humour in his larger than life characters. The novel has the main theme of confict between a new patient (Randal Mc Murphy) and the controlling Big Nurse Ratched, who abuses clinical treatment to maintain control. The story is narrated by another patient, a North American indian, Chief Broom. The story bristles with conflict and humour, and there are two great passages, the fishing trip and the ward party, which are the best I have read anywhere. The dialogue in parts reminded me of Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men and also I could not help myself from making comparisons with Lehane's Shutter Island. All three sit side by side in my collection as well worthy of re-reads, books that withstand the test of time. Magnificent piece of work.
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on 20 January 2018
I loved this book! so much more than the film. It is superbly written and utterly engrossing I may even read it again soon. I did say to my daughter the other day that I have watched the film many times but can never remember the end. The book is so different, the whole book captivates you, the ending never forgotten.
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on 26 November 2015
This was a book club read and everyone who read the prologue was put off reading the story itself - which is a lot more readable. We agreed that it would be better read this afterwards (if at all) as it would make a lot more sense. Set in a mental asylum, where normal order is upset by the arrival of a new resident, I found it a refreshingly unique novel and the characters were interesting, though there were quite a lot of them and it took a while to get to know them, making the second half of the book more enjoyable. It was sometimes humourous but often sad. I haven't seen the film yet but the description of the main character is not one bit like Jack Nicholson!
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