I’m currently reading One flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, written by Ken Kesey in the sixties, Oregon. I’ve got quite a number of US novelist in my reading list at the moment, now that I think of it… But I’ve been curious about this one for some time, since a friend of mine told me the narrator voice was the seemingly deaf Indian Chief (by coincidence this friend is doing an internship in the psychiatric ward of an Italian hospital right now).
I bought the Penguin Modern Classic edition, that includes the writer’s sketches as well.
The reason I opened a post about it is that I’m stunned by the way it is written: there is a visual element in the way the story is told that whoa, it’is just blowing my mind. Of course I like the story – I liked it years ago when I saw the movie, and it had been a lasting impression on me ever since ( to tell the truth, I cannot help but image the broad, red-haired and tattooed McMurphy of the novel as Jack Nicholson – but that’s okay, his interpretation was majestic).
Chief is telling McMurphy’s story from his eyes, and we as spectator are force to take this point of view as well, that is either incredibly into focus and vivid or filtered through hallucinations. In my opinion is this distortion from a plain narration that makes this book so interesting, dreamy and cruel at the same time.
I’m just so absorbed by this book.
So this is the way the villain Miss Ratched is introduced, by her mechanical, neon coloured fingers:
I’m mopping near the ward door when a key hits it from the other side and I know it’s the Big Nurse by the way the lockworks cleave to slide through the door with a gust of cold and locks the door behind her and I see her fingers trail across the polished steel – tip of each fingers the same colour as her lips. Funny orange. Like the tip of a soldering iron. Colour so hot or so cold if she touches you with it you can tell with.Ken Kesey, One flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, p. 4
And a while after he unveils the beast:
She’s swelling up, swells till her back’s splitting out of the white uniform and she’s let her arm section out long enough to wrap around the three of them five, six times. She looks around her with a swivel of her huge head. Nobody up to see, just old Broom Bromden the half-breed Indian back there hiding behind his mop and can’t talk to call for help. So she really let herself go and her painted smile twists, stretched to an open snarl, and she blows up bigger and bigger, big as a tractor, so big I can smell the machinery inside the way you smell a motor pulling too big a load. (…) All the patients start coming out of the dorms to check on what’s the hullabaloo, and she as to change back before she’s caught in the shape of her hideous self.Ken Kesey, One flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, p. 5
I don’t want to add other pieces, not to ruin the book for a new reader, but around page 77 there’s something jaw-dropping .
This novel was part of a book “haul” at Foyles from the last February: