zaterdag 27 februari 2016

"Flowers for Algernon" by Daniel Keyes

“I don’t know what’s worse: to not know what you are and be happy, or to become what you’ve always wanted to be, and feel alone.”

It's not often that I re-read books. There are far too many other books that deserve to be read and besides, there's always the possibility of being disappointed the second time around. Now that would shatter all those fond memories. But "Flowers for Algernon" is a story that I have read countless times, both the original short story from 1959 and the novel which appeared a couple of years later. Both won prestigious science fiction awards. Now, before you skip this review because you normally don't like 'SF', please read on...

A new method has been developed to increase human intelligence. The technique has already been tried on the mouse Algernon, with fantastic results. Now it is to be used on a human being, and Charlie -a mentally backward 37-year-old with an IQ of only 68- is chosen as the test subject. The treatment works and soon Charlie's IQ is rocketing. But then Algernon starts to behave erratically...

The novel is built-up out of progress reports written by Charlie himself. The fact that the story is told from his point of view, makes his development very poignant. Starting with the childishly naive first entries, you can see him gradually turning smarter, into brilliance. But along with this intelligence, he also gains insight into the people around him - and this is not always a positive thing. The ending is absolutely shattering, but oh-so beautiful.

"Flowers for Algernon" isn't only my favourite science fiction story, it is in my Top-5 novels I have ever read, in any genre. This story gets to me every time. Each. And. Every. Time. The SF-aspect is only very slight. Apart from the new treatment, it reads like a contemporary psychological novel, which is just deeply, deeply moving. Read this one, please. I can guarantee that Charlie is a character you will never ever forget.

Author: Daniel Keyes
Title: Flowers for Algernon
Publisher: Gollancz, London
Year: 1994 (orig. 1966)
Number of pages: 237 p.
ISBN: 1857989384

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