One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey is a delightful read. In fact I learnt of the book from the Malayalam film Thalavattom starring Mohanlal, Karthika. And I loved the Malayalam version (the songs are a delight). I loved the novel even better.
I have always maintained that nothing equals the pleasures granted by reading a book. A film leaves little for imagination as it presents the story in a visual form. Yet there are advantages when a written word is translated to the visual medium.
Anyhow, Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is hilarious to read and tickles your funny bones to the very last. It tells the story of a mental institution managed by a very strict ‘by the book’ nurse named Ratchet. She holds the life and liberty of all the inmates in her hands and is a tough nut to crack. Any deviation from her set of rules ends in a trip to the shock room, leaving the unfortunate inmate fogged out.
Into this world comes in Randal Patrick McMurphy. He is a mystery to all by his queer behavior, making Ms. Ratchet doubt whether he is really nuts or is faking it to avoid the long arm of the law. True to her intuitions, McMurphy challenges her authority from the very first day he lands there. A war brews up between the nurse and the ‘patient’, challenging and outwitting each other at every given chance.
It is actually this war that makes the novel hilarious to read. The various characters introduced on the way only make the story livelier. The story is in first person narrative, narrated by one of the inmates called Chief Bromden, a giant of an Indian who is presumed deaf and dumb.
Right from the daily meetings to eating the medications to demanding cigarettes(Mohanlal and Prabhu did a fine job in their own way, but nothing matched Nicholson’s) to smashing the nurse station glass to smithereens, coaxing the inmates to vote for a television, riding them on a fishing trip until the last, McMurphy steals the show.
The novel also gives an excellent account of the deep psychological nature of man and his undying quest for power, domination, and recognition in a special way. The way each character talks, behaves is a treat in itself. The last page is an expected one but jolts us out by the treatment. The poetic justice or relief that Murphy gets makes the reader sympathize with him and close the book with a heavy heart…and wish that his mental state remains stable till the very end.
A must read and to be enjoyed.