4. ‘Flowers for Algernon’ by Daniel Keyes

IMG_0167I knew as soon as I started reading this book that I was going to love it. I couldn’t read it fast enough and I began recommending it to friends before I was even halfway through.

The book is presented as a series of diary entries written by a man with learning difficulties. His name is Charlie and he is extraordinarily friendly, enthusiastic and – above all – keen to learn, despite the fact that nothing he studies ever sticks with him for longer than a few seconds.

To begin with his diary entries have very poor spelling, grammar and punctuation and Charlie finds it difficult to grasp even the most basic abstract concepts. But when some scientists conduct an operation on him to make him smarter, his writing (and his mind) improves dramatically. Soon Charlie’s intelligence outstrips everyone around him and he must face some difficult truths, including the demise of his own new-found powers.

This is a tragic and moving story: Charlie comes to learn more about the world than he wants to, including what his ‘friends’ really think of him and the fact that he is too emotionally immature to form a meaningful relationship with a woman. His experiences mirror those of Algernon, the lab mouse who went through the operation before him, through whom Charlie sees his own future.

At its heart, Flowers for Algernon remains universal. It charts a person moving from youthful innocence and ignorance, through arrogance and sexual awakening, to a final realisation of his own inadequacies and, ultimately, how little time he has. Charlie’s story might seem extraordinary at first but it becomes even more touching when you realise that it isn’t unique at all. In fact, it applies to us all.

Flowers for Algernon

 

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