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Flowers for Algernon Paperback – 1 May 2005
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A tale that is convincing, suspenseful and touching.--The New York Times
An ingeniously touching story . . . Moving . . . Intensely real.--The Baltimore Sun
From the Back Cover
As the treatment takes effect, Charlie's intelligence expands until it surpasses that of the doctors who engineered his metamorphosis. The experiment appears to be a scientific breakthrough of paramount importance, until Algernon suddenly deteriorates. Will the same happen to Charlie?
WINNER OF THE HUGO AWARD AND THE NEBULA AWARD
The classic novel that inspired the Academy Award-winning movie Charly
Daniel Keyes, the author of eight books, was born in Brooklyn, New York, and received his B.A. and M.A. degrees from Brooklyn College. Professor emeritus at Ohio University, he lives in Boca Raton, Florida.
- Language : English
- Paperback : 311 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0156030306
- ISBN-13 : 978-0156030304
- Reading age : 14 years and up
- Best Sellers Rank: 967 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Charlie Gordon has an IQ of 68 and the novel is his journal. He enters, with permission, into an experiment which promises to increase human intelligence. So far the experiment has been a success for Algernon, enabling him to become a veritable genius. Except Algernon is a mouse, so Charlie's brain may not be a direct comparison which makes Charlie more of a scientific guinea pig. As the story progresses, so too does Charlie's prose; initially the novel is riddled with grammatical errors, phonetic spelling and unusual sentence construction (not to mention a complete lack of punctuation which takes some getting used to!). But soon after the experiment is underway, Charlie too becomes a genius much like Algernon, easily surpassing even the researchers themselves, and notices that Algernon isn't looking so good. Soon Algernon begins to swiftly deteriorate and Charlie recognises the potential for a parallel in his own demise.
I love the concept; the promise of a timeline of events showcasing a vulnerable person unaware of their poor intelligence developing into a genius with entirely new perspective on a previously very sad life has the potential to be a really special book. Charlie is immediately relatable, incredibly pure and likeable and transforms slowly. His initial transformations are small and warm-hearted, as he recognises that he desperately seeks intelligence and a normalcy that those with a reasonable IQ have the privilege to receive without gratitude for their good fortune. His later transformations however give him a completely new persona, and not a very enjoyable one. Consumed with arrogance, selfishness and pride Charlie becomes a character I no longer enjoyed spending time with, although I did appreciate the deliberate creation of his character and the inevitable desperation that comes with knowing your impending doom is on the horizon.
However, I still didn't like this book because it really fails to make the most of some really important ideas. There are fleeting nods to the mistreatment vulnerable people experience, the poor opportunities and support available to people with less skills at their disposal and the challenges within families these might bring. There are further, but similarly fleeting, remarks about human relationships and initial sexual encounters as an older adult. But almost no comment whatsoever on how Charlie feels about all of this, what he recognises upon reflection about the way he was treated before and, perhaps most importantly, what it means for him to have altered the course of his life and to then be able to recognise it fall down around him.
This could have been so powerful, and instead completely ruined a really promising book.
It’s an emotive read, starkly reinforcing the point that nobody can possibly put themselves in someone else’s shoes until they have walked in them.
It slips a boot off one character and thrusts it onto the unsuspecting feet of others, which gives the wearer time to reflect, reject, and eventually even respect, the trials of the original owner. It’s an unsettling experience for many. Some are happy to learn from this, others not so much.
Charlie believed he would receive the approval of others simply by ‘becoming clever’, just like them. But he could never have appreciated just how much his eyes would be opened after the operation to ‘fix him’. To watch his hopes ebb and flow was heartbreaking.
Algernon, the little white laboratory mouse, and the comparisons with Charlie’s circumstances was hugely affecting. To him Algernon was a living, breathing entity, not just a test subject to be observed, displayed or critiqued, and Charlie could empathise completely.
The title of this book is beautifully and tragically apt and I’d recommend it to anyone. There are always lessons that can be learned, regardless of someone’s IQ.