Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes

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 < ?php echo amazonim('1857989384'); ?>Winner of the Nebula Award 1966

< ?php echo amazon('1857989384','Flowers for Algernon ‘); ?> was originally published as a short story which won the 1960 Hugo Award for best short fiction. It was later expanded to produce this fantastic piece of science fiction.

The book introduces us to Charlie, a 30-year-old man with a very low IQ. He is mocked by society, but his intelligence is such that he is unaware of the cruelty. Charlie yearns to be like everyone else – to able to read and write fluently, and to be successful. One day he is given the chance to make this happen when he is offered a place on a groundbreaking new experiment, which has the potential to turn him into a genius.

The book is written in the form of Charlie’s diary, so we are able to follow the changes in his intelligence by noting the quality of his spelling, grammar and comprehension. I thought that this showed an outstanding quality of writing. I found myself studying the differences in text on neighbouring pages and being very impressed by the subtle changes that were taking place. The personal nature of the diary also meant that it was easy to connect with Charlie – he is such a fantastic character that it was impossible not to fall in love with him

This is an amazing book and I was gripped from beginning to end. It was thought-provoking throughout, covering issues from the importance of intelligence, to what is needed to be happy. There was the odd occasion when I felt the text over-stepped the mark and lectured the reader, telling me things that I should have been shown, but I’m willing to forgive this, as the quality of the rest of the book was so high, and the messages that the text was conveying were very important.

How strange it is that people of honest feelings and sensibility, who would not take advantage of a man born without arms or legs or eyes – how such people think nothing of abusing a man born with low intelligence.

The book takes you on an emotional roller coaster, which left me thinking about it for hours. I am sure that the powerful, original plot will remain with me for many years to come.

If you think that you don’t enjoy science fiction, then I challenge you to read this book and still say that.

Flowers for Algernon has just become one of my all-time favourite reads and I highly recommend it.

stars51

 

I chose this book for our London book group. We all loved it! Savidge Reads, Reading Matters and Novel Insights have also written wonderful reviews.


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52 Comments

  1. Beth F says:

    I read this in the 1960s and so all I remember is that I loved it. I’m curious now about rereading it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Beth, I’d love to know what you think of it now. I hope you manage to re-read it soon.

  2. JoAnn says:

    I read this ages ago in high school. Since I don’t remember a thing, I should consider a reread. Great review!

    1. Jackie says:

      JoAnn, I think this is a fantastic book for children to read. I wish that I’d read it in school.

  3. Jeane says:

    This has always been one of my favorites. I loved how the writing reflected Charlie’s growing awareness and intelligence- and the story was so sad, too. It nearly made me cry, and I was so angry at how his former “friends” treated Charlie when he got smarter and realized they’d been unkind to him.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jeane, It made me sad too, but it didn’t move me to tears. I think a few of the other members of our reading group cried, but for some reason I managed to avoid the tissues.

  4. Sandy says:

    Ever since Simon review this, I’ve been wracking my brain trying to remember why it seem to familiar to me. I don’t think I read it, but is entirely possible that my high school BFF did. Was there a movie maybe? Oh well. Either way, that is a remarkable rating…one you don’t see often on Farm Lane Books! It is going on the Jackie list.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, This book was made into the Oscar winning film Charly, so perhaps you know if from there? I love the fact there is a Jackie list! I hope it provides you with many great reads.

  5. Jenny says:

    So I definitely need to reread this. I read it for the first time in sixth grade, because we had read the short story in my English class, and I found it really upsetting. I suppose because at age eleven I was seriously invested in the idea that I was Clever. I’m looking forward to seeing how my views on it will have changed now that I am (at least theoretically) grown up and mature.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenny, I can see that this book might be more upsetting to a teenager. I’d love to know how your feelings for this book have changed with age.

  6. Amanda says:

    People have said I should read this one for years, but it still scares me. :(

    1. Jackie says:

      Amanda, Don’t be scared! It is easy to read is a fantastic story. I hope that you change your mind and pick it up soon.

  7. Steph says:

    My mom isn’t much of a reader, but I remember her talking about this book with fondness when I was younger, so I sought it out. It was such a provocative and moving story – just thinking about it and reading your review is getting me choked up! It’s been a long time since I last read this one, but I think I need to find myself a copy and read it again, because it is such a powerful work.

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, It is lovely that your mom shared this book with you. The fact it is still able to move you so long after reading it shows what a powerful book it is. I hope you enjoy re-reading it.

  8. Dorte H says:

    A fine review of a really good story.

    I have read both the original story and the book, and I must confess that I prefer the story. In the long version there is, as you mention, a tendency to tell the reader too much.

  9. Jackie says:

    Dorte, It is interesting that you prefer the short story. I’ll have to find a copy at some point, as I’d love to compare the two.

  10. So, this comment is only sort of related to the story. Like 7 or 8 years ago my mom and I watched a movie based on this book on the Hallmark Channel. And we just bawled the entire time, I mean, kleenex out sniffling noses sobbing. It was ridiculous. And then the commercial breaks were all the Hallmark card commercials that are sort of emotional anyway — since we were already such a mess, we sobbed during the commercials too!

    Anyway, I’ve no idea how close the film was to the book. And given the fact that the film was so, well, Hallmark-y, I had no idea it was based on science fiction piece. That really makes me want to read the book since I bet the sci fi parts were lots more interesting than the movie made them out to be!

    1. Jackie says:

      Kim, I am very tempted to try to find the DVD so I can watch it for myself. I can imagine how it could be far more emotional. I hope that you get hold of the book and discover for yourself how great it is.

      1. Me too! I feel like I might have a copy at home, but I can’t remember. Otherwise, library. I suspect the movie people made it much more sappy than the book is, but who knows. When I get to read the book I’ll let you know!

  11. Rebecca Cox says:

    Boy did this bring back memories. This was the senior class play in High school. I still remember the hours of rehearsal. I can almost remember every line. a great play. It didn’t go over well with the students, but we didn’t care, we loved it anyway.

    1. Jackie says:

      Rebecca, I can’t imagine this as a play, but I’m really pleased that you read it in school. I think it is perfect for teenagers and I’m glad that you enjoyed yourself in the play!

  12. Aarti says:

    I read this in junior high in the 90s and LOVED it. Well, I read the short story, not the novel. I also watched the movie. It is very good. Thanks for reminding me of it!

    1. Jackie says:

      Aarti, I’m looking forward to watching the movie now – I hope that it is true to the book and doesn’t make me cry too much!

  13. I remember reading this in school many years ago and being deeply touched by it. The class also got a chance to see the movie version as well. This is a book I wouldn’t mind revisiting. I imagine it will still be as moving as it was then. Thank you for the great review, Jackie.

    1. Jackie says:

      Literary Feline, I hope that you enjoy revisiting the book. Thank you for the kind words.

  14. I’m looking forward to reading this next month and sorry we couldn’t experience it at same time. I remember an ex telling me about it years ago, which is probably why I never rushed to read it!

    1. Jackie says:

      Claire, It sounds as though your ex had good taste in books! I’ll make sure I bring my copy along in January, as I’d hate you to miss out on this book. I’m sure that you’ll love it.

  15. Cathy says:

    Love the book, and even the film was top notch. Cliff Robertson portrayed Charly and won an Academy Award.

    1. Jackie says:

      Cathy, I’ve not heard of Cliff Robertson before, but I didn’t realise he won an academy award for playing Charlie – thank you for letting me know. I’m really looking forward to watching it.

  16. Rebecca Reid says:

    I seem to remember this one but I don’t remember it being science fiction. Maybe I started reading it and then stopped or something. Adding it to my list!

    1. Jackie says:

      Rebecca, You may not associate this with science fiction, as it does all seem feasible in today’s world. I hope that you enjoy reading it.

  17. Annabel says:

    I adore this book – it’s certainly in my top twenty books ever. I read it last year and despite it having been written over forty years ago, it felt so contemporary. It’s asks lots of big questions, and I’m going to recommend it to my book group too.

    1. Jackie says:

      Annabel, I think it will make my top 20 too! I agree that it feels very contempory. There was very little to suggest that it hadn’t been written this year – the sign of a fantastic, classic book that I’m sure will be read many years from now.

  18. Simon S says:

    Wonderful choice of book and one that I will re-read and treasure again and again, maybe minus the blubbing next time.

    1. Jackie says:

      Simon, I’m so pleased that you enjoyed reading it. I hope my next choice will be just as good, but I fear it won’t be able to live up to this one.

  19. mee says:

    I have planned to read this book even before you selected it for your book group. Glad for it to have your endorsement!

    1. Jackie says:

      mee, I hope that you enjoy it!

  20. Melody says:

    I’m not a fan of sci-fi, so your review has really piqued my curiosity! I’ll have to look out for this book.

    1. Jackie says:

      Melody, This is the perfect book for people who believe that they wouldn’t enjoy science fiction. I would love you to get a copy and try it, as I’m sure that you’ll love it.

  21. Jenners says:

    Oh yes … I had forgotten all about this book but it made such an impression on me when I read it years ago. And you’re right … the quality of the writing and how it changes was brilliant. I remember sobbing when his writing starts to degenerate again and he begins to “disappear.” A brilliant book. Thanks for reminding me of it!

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, This book is such a clever literary acheivement as well as being a fantastic story. I’m so pleased that you enjoyed it too.

  22. She says:

    I absolutely love, love, love this book! I was in such a funk after reading it– I know I shed a few tears too ;p

    1. Jackie says:

      She, I’m so pleased to hear that you loved it too.

  23. I read a part of this in high school and I recently bought a new copy to read it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Mrs Q, I hope you enjoy the re-read.

  24. Kathleen says:

    I’m logging onto Amazon right now to purchase this book. I’ve been hearing about this since high school (many, many, many years ago) and haven’t had a chance to read it. Your review just gave me the push I need!

    1. Jackie says:

      Kathleen, I’m pleased that I was the ‘push’ you needed! I hope that you enjoy it.

  25. Christina says:

    I read the short story version in eighth grade, and I distinctly remember my classmates grumbling over how hard it was to read because “Charlie’s stupid and can’t spell”. They certainly did not get the point.

    For me, though, this story has a special place in my heart. It really changed my outlook on myself and my dyslexia.

    1. Jackie says:

      Christina, I didn’t find it hard to read, but 8th grade is quite young – 12? I’m so pleased to hear that it had a positive impact on you.

  26. I read this a few times as a teenager in the 60s and then again last year. I love it!

    I also saw the movie based on this book – Charly with Cliff Robertson in 1968 and remember thinking that it was very good. It would be interesting to see it again.

    1. Jackie says:

      Debbie, Thank you for commenting on my blog for the first time! I hope to get round to watching Charly at some point. I’m pleased to hear that you enjoyed it.

  27. Thanks for the link! I think I need to go back and do some housekeeping to add ratings to older reviews as this would get 10!

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