Flowers for Algernon is a brilliant choice for a book club but not so easy to review. There’s so much to discuss, but I’d hate to give anything away. So please proceed with caution…
This real tearjerker of a read is written in diary entries, or ‘progress reports’, by Charlie Gordon who, at the start of the book, has an IQ of 68 and limited understanding of the world around him. During the day he sweeps the floors of a bakery and in the evening he attends a school for people with learning difficulties. His unflinching desire to learn and be ‘smart’, leads him to be chosen for an experimental operation to increase his intelligence. As he notes down his progress, changes become apparent. At first it’s improved spelling and grammar, but soon Charlie is absorbing new information like a sponge.
As Charlie’s mind intelligence grows, his emotional intelligence has trouble keeping up. And it is especially hard for him to come to terms with his past. His understanding of certain memories become clear, with a brain that can finally comprehend the full context of situations. This reveals a painful childhood and a realisation that people he thought were friends, were actually laughing at him all along.
Flowers for Algernon gives the reader a lot to think about, exploring difficult issues through the words of Charlie and his rapidly progressing mind. It’s tough stuff to read, but executed flawlessly, making me wonder what else Daniel Keyes has to offer.
I’m glad I finally made time to read Flowers for Algernon, and thankful to the friend that gave it to me. I probably never would have picked this one up based on the cover design, which just goes to show that you should never judge a book by its cover!