One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

One flew east, one flew west… Why Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s nest is the American classic everyone needs to read.

Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest has been an American classic I’ve wanted to read for a very long time, however, I’ve just never felt a huge urge to get down to it. After researching a lot about Ken Kesey and his escapades with LSD for an essay, the book suddenly became a lot more appealing to me and I thought I’d make the most of my uni library while I can and use it for some leisure reading.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest… is a very slow book that you need to be in the right mindset to read. I found that I just couldn’t read it on public transport or a noisy place as I’d get so distracted, however, once I got stuck in a long reading session it became a lot easier. I think it may have helped that I’d seen the film already and been studying the context as I was aware of what was going on and it didn’t matter too much when my attention drifted off. The imagery was really vivid, quite creepy at times and so many of the characters were brought to life in ways that, oddly, the film didn’t quite manage. This is particularly the case for Chief Bromden, the half Native American who narrates the story and plays a much smaller part in the film.

At this point I’m going to get a little English student on you but bear with me; Kesey got the inspiration for One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest when he underwent a drug trial on a psychiatric ward for LSD. He volunteered on the ward afterwards and became fascinated by the idea that there was ‘something else’ to the mentally ill and that they had a heightened awareness. LSD is s drug that supposedly mimics this awareness of other realms and opens your mind so you can see where the two ideas tie in. Having listened to the audio recording of Kesey on LSD in the film Magic Bus you can see that the way Chief Bromden describes the ward is inspired from Kesey’s own experience on psychoactive drugs.

I’m glad I read this book at last though I can’t say it’s one of my favourites. I think anyone with a keen interest in American literature or 60s psychedelic culture should read it as it does make for an interesting read once you get into it. If you’re looking for light reading I’d give it a wide berth but the film with Jack Nicholson makes a good alternative (though misses out the LSD inspired bits).

What modern classics are on your reading lists?