Friday 29 June 2012

Flowers For Algernon - Daniel Keyes

 Charlie has the mind of a child but desperately wants to learn. He has felt this desperate need since he was a child. Now a grown man he works in a bakery where he has lots of friends. In the evening he goes to school where he has learned a little writing and reading. As the most eager student his teacher has put him forward for a new trial. This trial could increase his intelligence. To Charlie this is a dream come true and he only hopes he passes all the tests so that he can learn to read and write properly. As the doctors proceed little does Charlie know that intelligence doesn't mean everything. It changes Charlie's life in ways he didn't expect and not necessarily for the better. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

For some strange reason I thought the film, Lawnmower Man, was based on this. Apparently not although it is similar in that a simple man is given intelligence (Lawnmower Man is very loosely based on a short story by Stephen King).

The book is written as a series of reports from Charlie as he begins his quest to be able to learn. From these reports we see his slow progress. Progress that Charlie doesn't even notice at first. It begins with his spelling and grammar which he struggles to correct. Very quickly though he is able to discuss issues with university students and eventually surpasses the university professors. It's easy to become caught up in Charlie's excitement as he realises the treatment has worked and he is able to process so much information.

We also see at the start just how much Charlie loves working in the bakery and loves making his very dear friends laugh. Of course the reader realises that his so called friends are in fact making him the butt of their jokes and taking advantage of the fact that he doesn't understand. It's easy to see from these first few pages that if the treatment works Charlie is going to realise this himself. Which indeed he does and he unfortunately doesn't have the emotional intelligence to deal with it.

In fact emotional intelligence is a big problem for Charlie. He is now conflicted a lot of the time and is unable to empathise with his so called peers. He has a hard time adjusting to discovering women. As his IQ piques his bitterness does also and he is no longer the happy go lucky person we know from the start of the book.

I'm not going to say too much more about the story as it will give away the ending if you haven't guessed yourself. It was very well done though. The changes in Charlie's reports were at first subtle as were the changes in Charlie himself which of course speeds up. Despite the report format I was able to feel for him as he discovers that he was probably happier in his ignorance. I was expecting this to be a rather sad story and it was. A classic sci fi which I would recommend to everyone. It doesn't have any space flight if that's not your cup of tea. And the sciencey gobbledigook is kept to a minimum. In other words I think even the non-sci fi fans would get something out of it.

I read this as part of the Sci Fi challenge hosted by Ellie of Curiosity Killed the Bookworm. This was this months book choice. I decided to go with that since I had been wanting to read the book for a while now. You can see what others read here.


  1. I love this book so so so much, even though it makes me so sad. I think it's a really interesting exploration of the question 'would you rather be a happy idiot, or an unhappy genius' and yeah, it's just amazingly done. Definitely agree that it's not *too* sci-fi-y- obviously there are sci-fi elements, but the characters are a lot more important, I think.

    1. Definitely was interesting. Plus so sad when he looked back and saw how sad his life was. He was definitely happier not knowing just how rejected he was. Sad ending too.

  2. God it's July, I need to do a quick poll! I got myselrf a copy but not got round to reading it yet.

    1. I know, time is flying past too fast. If you get the chance to read it I recommend it. Was well worth reading.