on 16 January 2006
Charlie Gordon, IQ 68, is a toilet cleaner at a bakery. After an experiment is done on him by the local University his IQ gradually increases in parallel with the test mouse, Algernon. However Algernon starts to display erratic behaviour which leads the super-intelligent Charlie to suggest both their intelligences will start to drop back to their previous levels.
Flowers for Algernon is in my opinion one of the greatest stories ever written. It is superbly told through Charlie’s diary entries which catalogue his days just before the experiment and the following months after it. We see the gradual improvement in his grammar, his spelling and punctuation and learn of his life through his dreams which he is instructed to write down. What is most compelling about the novel is the moral dilemma that is presented to the reader when Charlie becomes intelligent. In the beginning of the book he believes he has friends at the bakery whereas in actual fact they are gently mocking him. By the time he becomes intelligent however he is aloof and has no friends (make-believe or real). He also is incapable of certain emotions at this stage which poses the question at the end of the novel – at which stage was he better off?
This is rightly in the SF Masterwork series, it is my favourite book and has won the Hugo Award (as a short story) and Nebula award (as the full length novel).
on 13 April 2007
Could have been mawkish and over-sentimental. Could have been overly simplistic in its message. Could easily be seen as an "ignorance is bliss" fable with little more to commend it than the fact that it asks us to be sympathetic toward those less fortunate than ourselves. It, to my mind, is none of those things.
Its genius lies in its narrative structure - at each dramatic turn it outwits any second-guessing you may have entered into regarding revelations about Charlie's past as well as any thoughts as to how his intelligence may progress. Charlie's progress is neither predictable nor ridiculously sentimental. Especially since - regardless of his eventual self-awareness - there is an all-pervasive naivety that (I can only imagine) must have been incredibly difficult for Keyes to convey as brilliantly as he does.
What's perhaps more important is not the emotional investment we get in the main character, but the depth and resonance found in the other key players - especially when this is given to us, at all times, by the (first) mentally challenged (then) emotionally awkward Charlie. It is perhaps best just to say that there are no real villains in the novel - just people being people. (I could write more here but it would spoil the plot).
Overall, it is a book that should make you think about your own mental and emotional development. Again, I don't want to plot-spoil but, if you ask me, one of the final comments regarding self-effacement is by far the most poignant and intelligent in the whole book.
on 2 February 2000
Normally wary of books billed as "classics," I bought this on a whim, not realising that I was picking up what would become the most poignant and moving story I have ever read. From the first words, I was gripped by the tale of Charlie Gordon, a clinical moron who is given genius level intelligence through the intervention of science. The story of his rise from intellectual stupor, and his subsequent fall, is written with heartbreaking depth and emotion from his perspective, and we are treated to a discourse on what it means to be human. This is a book that should be read by everyone. A superb novel, well-deserving of the "Masterwork" label.
on 14 November 2002
Charlie Gordon is a retard, but an operation boosts his intelligence so that he becomes a genius. However, it becomes clear that the operation might start regressing and he may end up as retarded as when he started. The story is skilfully told in diary form, with the writing accurately reflecting the mental ability of Gordon. We watch through Gordon’s eyes his mental ascent to unassailable heights; fumbling with his emotional development as it lags behind his intellect; coming to terms with his past….and brooding upon his eventual future. Although the story is sad on so many levels, the book is never depressing and always compelling. This is because Keyes is a writer of skill and subtlety, and deserves to be known to a wider audience than his narrow science fiction base. A minor 20th Century classic.
on 13 January 2005
Flowers for algernon is one of the most amazing books i have ever read. Full Stop.
I picked it up just last week and read the whole thing within two days, thats just how great it is. The main storyline is that you have a main character, Charlie, who is mentally handicapped. He is given an operation to become more intelligent and the book goes on from there. The ascent from his stupidity to his intelligence is superbly written, showing you how he's learning to do more while not missing out the obvious part, that he's realized his friends aren't really his friends.
The story cannot and should not be told in a review like this, but i'd just like to say that i had tears in my eyes when i read the final few pages. Even though i was in the car with my parents at the time.
Only one more thing to say, just buy it
on 17 May 2006
This award-winning novel by Daniel Keyes is nearly perfect in its execution, with perhaps the minor quibble of some dated slang that's a slight detraction. But that alone is not enough to prevent the book from receiving a well-deserved five stars. Keyes doesn't hit a false note in his story of the rise and fall of Charlie, a mentally retarded custodian at a bakery who briefly becomes a towering genius thanks to an experimental brain operation, only to loose it all as the effects turn out to be temporary. Worse, Charlie's deterioration is beyond even his advanced abilities to stop or reverse it; he has to bear the slow terror of sliding back down to his previous diminished mental capacity, with the hint that he- like Algernon, the lab mouse of the book title that was first to benefit from the operation- might die too. Although considered by some to be a "just" a sentimental story with a tearjerk ending, Charlie is a fully realized character from start to finish, one whose plight keeps you turning the pages, which is why this novel rates so highly. If you're a new fan of science fiction, or just want to sample what the genre has to offer, Flowers for Algernon should be high on your "must read" list. A newer novel with a similar theme is An Audience for Einstein, another book with an emotionally charged ending.
Charlie Gordon works in a menial job at Donners bakery; he is thirty two years old, but has an IQ of 68. He attends a centre for retarded adults, where he is taught by Alice Kinnian and, in his own words, has just "great motor-vation." This novel is written in a series of progress reports by Charlie, who is chosen for a scientific procedure to improve his intelligence. Unable to understand the complexities of what is going on, Charlie is nevertheless desperate to improve, as he finds learning so difficult. These self penned reports gradually improve in clarity and understanding, as Charlie's IQ begins to rise.
As Charlie's intelligence begins to increase, he realises that he has misunderstood, and misinterpreted, the behaviour of other people and also begins to have upsetting flashbacks of his childhood. We follow his progress and treatment; alongside that of Algernon, a laboratory mouse, which has undergone similar treatment. As Charlie becomes a genius he understand more than the scientists treating him and then Algernon starts behaving oddly... This is a very moving novel, in which Charlie struggles to come to terms with his life, new emotions, and changing intelligence.
on 30 December 2011
I have to say first off that I'm not a massive sci-fi fan, but that this is one of the best novels I have read in recent times. It had me engrossed all the way through and I can see why it is deservedly known as a classic. At times bittersweet, at other times dark, it is incredibly well-written and able to illicit all kinds of emotions from the reader. I think this is a book everyone should give a go at least once.
The story follows Charlie Gordon, a floor sweeper with an IQ of 68 who agrees to a scientific procedure that may enhance his brain power. Once the unknowing butt of everyone's jokes, Charlie gradually becomes a genius, even successfully triumphing over Algernon, the lab mouse who previously beat him in experiments. It is only when he sees the suffering that Algernon eventually undergoes, that Charlie realises that the same fate may possibly befall him.
The characters are so well crafted that I really felt that I knew Charlie and that he was a real person. I felt for his predicament and was moved by his trials and tribulations. Told through `progress reports' you really get a sense of how Charlie's brain power is developing through the spelling (or lack thereof) and grammar following the procedure. You feel his sense of isolation and longing to belong as well as his confusion. I felt so bad for him when he finally understood that people who he thought were his friends just saw him as a person to laugh it. It really does reflect on society's attitudes and how people are treated by others. The ending nearly had me in tears too- not overly sentimental but just fitting.
As I've said, if this novel can appeal to me, a real non-sci fi fan, then I think it could convert anyone to the genre! I will be passing this on to my boyfriend to read and then seeing who else hasn't tried it and will be reading more SF Masterworks books soon.
on 22 February 2015
'Flowers For Algernon' is the story of Charlie Gordon, a thirty four year old man who works in a bakery. Charlie has a lower IQ than most people and is treated differently. Charlie is given the opportunity to be part of her experiment, a experiment to have a higher IQ, something that Charlie strives for, to be smarter, to be accepted. Charlie's journey begins with him meeting a mouse called 'Algernon', who is already a participant in the experiment and how Charlie and Algernon learn to live in a world that has changed for both of them.
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.
on 29 July 2015
Brilliant! I was a bit put off by this being classed as science fiction which isn't usually my kind of thing. Boy am I glad I read this though - one of the best ever books in my opinion.
The book is told via Charlie's progress reports. Initially he is classed as a 'moron' and does menial jobs in a bakery as the owner is doing him a favour. Charlie is then put forward for an operation at the local university to increase his intelligence. This is where Charlie meets Algernon, a mouse who had the operation before Charlie. Charlie hates Algernon at first because the mouse beats him in different tests. However, Charlie soon identifies with Algernon as his intelligence increases and their relationship grows. Without giving away too much of the story, Charlie and Algernon go through the same highs and lows in one of the most touching and emotional books I've ever read. Definitely recommend!