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[personal profile] lydia_petze
In line with my 2014 resolution to Read More, I have started a separate blog over on Wordpress (some little weirdness about keeping the book blog separate, idk) but I'll crosspost here.

This is one of those classics that’s been on my geez-I-really-must-read-that list for years. I remember picking it up and putting it down a bunch of times in Borders back when Borders was a thing. Being Borders, though, it was overpriced so I let it go.

Fast forward through a few years of the GFC, and into a liquidation (I think) shop called Book Grocer – it doesn’t have the advantage of a great range but it DOES have that of being close to my workplace. And it has a far better range of titles than those clearance places normally do. Terrible financial climate means better-quality stuff to offload, I guess. Anyway, who cares, right?

Flowers for Algernon is apparently on a lot of high school English cirricula. Not mine, sadly. It’s about Charlie, a mentally-disabled man who undergoes a surgical procedure to increase his intelligence. The eponymous Algernon, a white mouse, has previously undergone the procedure and the scientists are looking for a human test subject. The procedure works – temporarily. Charlie’s previously 68 IQ ends up topping out at 185…and then he learns something the scientists hadn’t told him. Algernon’s behaviour has become erratic, and his newfound intelligence seems to be slipping away from him.

This is a compelling, yet heartbreaking, read. Many of the potential pitfalls of a sudden upswing in intellect are explored – Charlie, previously blissfully unaware that people often mocked him and took advantage of him, learns that his “friends” had not been all that friendly, and that those same people end up fearing him. All he had wanted was to be “normal”, yet he is as isolated with his genius IQ as he ever was with his low one. He remembers trauma from his childhood which he had forgotten. Also, a steep upward curve in intelligence does not correspond with one of emotional maturity, as Charlie learns in his feelings for Alice and his intolerance for alchohol.

Told in a neccessarily first-person epistolary style, the narrative itself follows a bell curve – Charlie’s own writing, his own spelling and punctuation, reflects his changing intelligence. There are the usual generation-gap things you notice when reading an older text – this was written in 1959 and set in 1965, so many of the terms used (ie “retard”) are no longer acceptable. It’s not as backward in gender politics and sexual politics as other texts from that period, though (I LOVED Fay, slight Manic Pixie Dream Girl overtones aside) and there is a small scene towards the end that I am sure outrages the book-banning types as well.

Started: 3 Jan. Finished: 3 Jan. (I had a lot of free time yesterday :))


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