For those who have seen the movie One
Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, their memory of Ken Kesey's novel will be
dominated by images of Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher. So listening to
this abridged version of the novel, read by Kesey herself, is fascinating even
for those who already know the novel. You are reminded that R.P. McMurphy is a
burley red-headed man in the novel, and that there are significant plot
differences between the novel and the movie. Most significantly, the novel is
narrated by Chief Bromden, the large native American man with enormous strength
who neither says nor apparently hears anything. In the interview of Ken Kesey
included on the CD, with Terry Gross of NPR's Fresh Air, he says that if
the book had just been the story of the struggle between MrMurphy and Nurse
Ratched, it would have been a melodrama, and it was the devise of telling it
from Chief Bromden's point of view that made it work.
Kesey had worked on a psychiatric
ward and had participated in government (CIA) trials of LSD in a psychiatric
hospital before writing his novel, so he had a good understanding of mental
illness. While he clearly thought that some of the people in mental hospitals
were no more ill than many of the people who lived in normal life, he never
denied the existence of mental illness. One of his central messages is how the
institution of a mental hospital creates a power structure requiring conformity,
and that mental health treatments can be used as punishments and forms of
social control. He also clearly has a great love for his character R.P.
McMurphy, who reminds the men in the hospital of the joys of living, whether
they are sports, betting, alcohol or sex.
Despite being an abridgement, all
these qualities of the novel are very clear on Kesey's 3 hour performance of
his book. His reading is full of energy and subtlety, so it is very enjoyable
to hear his interpretation of his great work. Recommended.
© 2007 Christian
Perring. All rights reserved.
Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities
Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Reviews. His main
research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.