Review of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”

I’ve been reading books about people with mental problems and this was a perfect choice. This book was published in 1962 and made into a movie in 1975. The movie won five oscars, so I was curious to see if it was faithful to the novel and watched it too.

This book delivers on getting inside the mind of a man who is one of the “Chronic” patients in a mental hospital. Chronics are long-term patients who are never getting out. The story is told in the first person by Chief Bromden, a half-Indian. The story never says why he’s in the hospital but he has serious problems with reality. He pretends to be deaf and dumb to avoid human contact, and he’s been there so long that nobody knows otherwise. The story is really about him.

The person we all know from the movie is a one-dimensional character introduced to change the environment in which Bromden lives, to wake him up. This happens over a period of months and to be honest, the author kind of fails to smoothly portray Bromden’s change in mental capacity. He’s suddenly a regular guy, although there are a few of his schizophrenic behaviors lingering throughout the book. As well as his paranoid fear of the Combine, the system of institutions, rules, etc that run the world.

The story is eccentric, with more than half the book devoted to Bromden’s life, especially his early life on the Columbia Indian reservation. However, he is not involved in the conflict, which is 100% centered on McMurphy and Nurse Ratched.

I don’t recall reading another book where a first-person narrator shared so much of their life while remaining mostly out of the plot.

The book is easy to read and very interesting. I would note that it got easier after the first few chapters, however, because the author had difficulty maintaining the narrator’s poor grammar and slang. That’s another inconsistency. If you start a character out speaking with a very specific accent, you’re stuck until the end.

The movie is a subset of the book, with a lot of action thrown in like a kaleidoscope.  Some scenes were completely rewritten. I can understand why it was done this way and it doesn’t lose much from the book. However, it seems at times to be based on the book rather than an adaptation of the book.

A good book and a great movie.

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