Book review: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

I’m a bit of a book fiend. It used to be that if I didn’t have at least one book on the go, it was because I was choosing my next book. It set me up well for university, I can devour a book in no time, but by graduation my joy for books was slightly diminished. Doing anything you love to a deadline can tarnish it somewhat, and after three years of university that was how I felt. To put it into perspective for you, four Dickens novels in 10 weeks. That’s going to put anyone off picking up a new book.

Since moving to Bath I’m only on my fourth book. 4 books, in 8 months. That averages out at one book every 2 months or so and that is slow for me. But that time, pacing myself through a book, has been exactly what I’ve needed. It’s given me the distance to start appreciating reading again, and it helped that they’ve been fabulous books.

bath 1

(Beautiful Bath, with all those views it’s no wonder I couldn’t focus on books. Ahem…no excuses though…Photo by me)

First off, I was reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey. This American classic was one of my Christmas presents from last year and it took me all the way up to May, The Great Gatsby and a week of forced relaxation to finish it. But that wasn’t the book’s fault. Funny, gripping and really rather emotional, this is a fantastic book.


I think I’ve mentioned before that my kind of literature is character led. I don’t need all that much in a plot, so long as I really give a damn about the people. Hemingway is a master of that, and it’s the main reason he inspired my dissertation. Fitzgerald also masters it in The Great Gatsby (book the second of Bath, which I started and finished whilst reading One Flew Over). Kesey’s work is a great balance of people and plot. There’s plenty going on, but what you really care about is how it affects everyone. With action in every chapter you trot along very happily but the characters are right there with you. For me, the best characters in any book are the ones you think about when you aren’t reading. Pouring out your cereal and wondering what cereal Bob eats. Hopping in the car and imagining that they are in the back seat with you. That’s how I felt with One Flew Over. That counts as a success for me.

Although I was aware of the film adaptation, I still haven’t seen it, and I enjoy the rarity of reading a book that I know nothing about. Because of that, I’m not going to give away any details from the plot. However, I will give a bit of a warning, this book was written in the sixties. There is plenty of racism, sexism and narrow-mindedness. If you are likely to be offended by this, steer clear. I personally think it’s a sign of the times, and shows how far we’ve come, rather than anything else.

The focus on mental health, and how it was handled in 1960s America is quite shocking. Psychology and all things to do with the brain have come on so much, that it’s all too easy to forget just how recently it was still barbaric. And that’s the only word for it. Painful at times, and jarring throughout, it was fascinating to read. One Flew Over shies away from nothing and I have all the more respect for it because of that.

It’s not a short book, and it isn’t all fluffy bunnies and rainbows, but it’s definitely worth a read. Well done Ken.