One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

OFOTCN cover

“Papa says if you don’t watch it people will force you one way or the other, into doing what they think you should do, or into just being mule-stubborn and doing the opposite out of spite.”

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is an absolute cracker of a novel; a true work of art – although had you told me so at any point during the first thirty-odd pages, I wouldn’t have believed it. As was also the case with Mrs Dalloway, it took me a wee while to get into One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, to understand why it is regarded as a modern classic. And now, with the benefit of hindsight, I suspect my initial lack of appreciation had more to do with my mindset at the time than with the book itself.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is set on the psychiatric ward of a hospital in the US state of Oregon during the early 1960s. It is narrated by “Chief” Bromden, an exceptionally tall, half-American Red Indian patient, whom the staff believe to be deaf and mute. The novel is filled with his “crazy” observations on the ward and its inmates, which are divided into two distinct groups: the ‘Acutes’ (believed to be treatable) and the ‘Chronics’ (deemed to be beyond help).

The story doesn’t really get going until Randle McMurphy arrives on the ward. He is transferred to the hospital from a prison, and immediately upon his arrival locks horns with the head nurse, Nurse Ratched, a crotchety old megalomanic who has run the ward unopposed for decades. The way he manages, time and time again, to get the better of her is downright hilarious.

Kesey’s narrative in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is astounding, and I stand in awe of his turn of phrase. Through the musings of “Chief” Bromden and his interactions with the other patients, the reader gets to see the world of a ‘mental’ patient from a slightly different perspective, as well as learn about some of the horrors of early psychotherapeutic treatment.

I can’t wait to see the movie version, which stars Jack Nicholson and Danny DeVito, and was realised in 1975. I did, however, make the mistake of looking up the actors who played the characters in the film adaptation while I was still reading the book, and from that moment on I couldn’t help but visualise Nicholson in the role of McMurphy–in the book the character is a burly red head (i.e. nothing like Nicholson).

Read One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. You won’t regret it!

UPDATE ON MY NOVEL: I have hit the 32,000-word mark on my second draft! Only 18,000 words to go.


Christmas reading!

Mrs Dalloway

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

A true literary masterpiece! It takes a while to get used to Woolf’s way with words (her writing flits backwards and forwards in time and space, and alternates without warning between view points) but reading Mrs Dalloway is well worth the effort. Once I got used to her ‘stream of consciousness’ style of story telling, I couldn’t put the book down. The story takes place on a single day in Central London in the early 1920s. Clarissa Dalloway – a respectable lady in the twilight of her life – is preparing to host a party at her Westminster home. As we observe her preparations for the party, we learn about her life and meet a whole host of other characters. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Mrs Dalloway.

The Metamorphosis


The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

I bought my copy of The Metamorphosis at Kafka’s house in Prague when I was on a school trip way back in 1999 but only read it last week! I don’t know why it took me so long, as it is a tiny novella (about 100 pages). It is also incredibly easy to read. In a nutshell, The Metamorphosis tells the story of Gregor Samsa, a travelling salesman, who wakes one morning to find he has turned into a beetle. It becomes obvious quite quickly that the story is taking place in some sort of parallel universe, since his parents and sister, although disgusted by his transformation, accept what has happened with a fair degree of pragmatism, and try to accommodate Gregor in his new form by clearing out his bedroom to give him more space to manoeuvre his bulky body. Despite its slightly bizarre subject matter, I would definitely recommend The Metamorphosis.

Mr Pip

Mr Pip by Lloyd Jones

I bought Mr Pip at Whitcoulls just before Christmas, unaware that its author, Lloyd Jones, is a New Zealander and lives in Wellington! It was a fortuitous discovery, since I had been wanting to read more NZ literature for some time. Having said that, Mr Pip is not set in New Zealand; the story takes place on a small island in Papua New Guinea during the blockade of Bougainville in the early 1990s. The story is written in the first person, from the perspective of a young girl called Matilda, who, over the course of some 200 pages, describes a three- or four-year period from her childhood. Parts of Mr Pip are funny and charming; others are harrowing and immensely sad. A central theme of the book is Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, a novel that is read to Matilda and her class mates by their teacher, Mr Watts; the only white man on the island. It is very clever how Jones manages to weave Great Expectations into his own novel, and I would strongly recommend Mr Pip. The novel was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and has been made into a movie, starring Hugh Laurie.



I am now eight chapters into my second draft and I am feeling positive about the changes I have made so far. The feedback I received on my first draft has been really helpful and has enabled me to refocus. I am aiming to have my second draft finished by the end of the summer, ready for another edit!