Thursday, May 23, 2019

Book Review: Flowers for Algernon

Flowers for AlgernonFlowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While a clever little book with many great, quotable lines; however, it has a huge slow point that had me putting Flowers for Algernon down and hoping it would finish itself. The first 50% is a fast paced, can't put down read. But by the time our lead man has gained a crazy high IQ this becomes less interesting. Maybe it's his self-centered egoism or just that he's boring and almost too intelligent at some point. I'm not totally sure what causes the slow down; except to say that it's a huge lull in the narrative.

A Classic
I understand why this is an educational standard and deemed a classic by many. For having been written in 1959, Daniel Keyes is clearly a brilliant philosopher and writer. The idea is clever, the execution is amazing (I love the way the spelling, grammar, etc. changes throughout the story) and even the delivery of the story via 'progress reports' is inspired. There are moments of pure genius in this story and many quotable lines.
Of course on the educational side of things there is the ethical question of if what they did to Charlie was morale. As well as if it was worth it, not just for Charlie, but for anyone involved in the project. Without a doubt thousands of different papers and analysis could be done on Flowers for Algernon. I suppose that's why teachers love to keep it on the educational reading list. Although I do feel bad for any kids dealing with the lull in the story.

Relevant Even Today
Many quotes and thoughts in Flowers for Algernon are relevant even today in 2019. My two favourite are:
1. " soon as [any word] begins to mean anything to anyone they’ll change it. The idea seems to be: use an expression as long as it doesn’t mean anything to anybody. "
2."Although we know the end of the maze holds death (and it is something I have not always known--not long ago the adolescent in me thought death could happen only to other people), I see now that the path I choose through that maze makes me what I am. "

For number 1; we should be over the implied meaning of words by now. It's crazy to think we keep renaming something with the hope that we can remove the hurt, fear or anger that the word invokes. Renaming something doesn't change what it is.
For number 2; it constantly amazes me how few people understand that there is no 'end goal' in this world or life. It's just existence. If you aren't living in the here and now then you are probably missing the whole point of why you exist. I still have to remind myself of this, as our society is very good as pretending this isn't the truth, on a daily basis.

I'm glad to have read Keyes classic novel. And I'll leave my print copy on my shelf (with a couple quotes flagged in it) because I think it's worthy of a place on the shelf. But I'd be kidding myself if I think I'll ever read it again. That said I might lend it out to people in the future; which is always a good use of a book.

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1 comment:

Leonore Winterer said...

This one sounds kind of fun, and I'm about due to read another 'classic' :D I never seem to mind lulls in the story quite as much with those, probably because I always feel like I'm doing something for my overall education, haha.