Just finished this last night… gripping, disturbing, thought-provoking and surprisingly well written (Kesey was only 24 when he penned this, his first and most well-known novel). I was already familiar with story having seen the famous 1975 film version starring Jack Nicholson as the memorable trickster Randle Patrick McMurphy.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

If I’m honest, I didn’t have huge expectations of the book being all that great, but let me stress straight away that this is a fine novel, with some great characters and many memorable pieces of dialogue. Unlike the film, the novel is told from the perspective of the (supposedly) deaf and dumb docile half-Indian “Chief” Bromden, who provides an account of life in the ward and of the various ways in which the system (or the ‘Combine’) exerts its control over the patients, especially through the harsh rule of Nurse Ratched. Then, onto the scene steps McMurphy, who sets about a one-man battle against Nurse Ratched, the system and all that would try and turn people into puppets.

I been silent so long now it’s gonna roar out of me like floodwaters and you think the guy telling this is ranting and raving my God; you think this is too horrible to have really happened, this is too awful to be the truth! But, please. It’s still hard for me to have a clear mind thinking on it. But it’s the truth even if it didn’t happen.

Ken Kesey wrote this novel after working as an orderly at a mental health facility, where he observed the behaviour of both staff and patients. Whilst working there, he also took psychoactive drugs (Peyote and LSD) as part of the  MK-ULTRA Project (the code name for a covert CIA mind-control and chemical interrogation research program).