Don’t judge a book by its cover – Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Several people have told me in the past that this is a good book. I considered it, but then always put it off as it is classed as a Sci-fi novel. I know that shouldn’t influence me but I am not naturally drawn to Sci-fi novels.

However Flowers for Algernon was chosen as our book group book of the month so home it went with me. The copy we were reading was one of the specially produced yellow covers for Gollancz Publishing 50 year anniversary. I am sure that if you are a Gollancz fan, then the cover is iconic, but it really didn’t float my boat. But I got past it and I am so glad that I did.

Flowers for Algernon was first published in the 1960s and is classed as Sci-fi due to the nature of the technology in it. Other than that it is set in a very real world and written about a very real character called Charlie. Charlie is an adult with learning difficulties, although as the book was written in the 60s he is referred to as retarded. This caused me to gulp a bit as I read it, but I persevered.

Charlie is relatively happy with his life, he has friends at the bakery where he works, he attends a literacy class with other adults like him in the evenings where he gets on well with his teacher. He likes his class but never seems to remember anything he is taught. Charlie wants to be clever and is offered a chance to change and he accepts it. He enters an experimental programme to alter his brain function. This programme has been previously tested on animals and has a success story with Algernon the mouse.

As the book continues Charlie’s and Algernon’s fates become intertwined and Charlie’s world completely changes as his IQ rises. I won’t give any spoilers to the end, but the clue is in the title of the book. Be prepared – you may need tissues.

I am really looking forward to the book group discussion about this book as the book raises so many questions. Should Charlie have taken part in the experiment? Would he ultimately have been happier if he had stayed ‘dumb’. Does being very intelligent cause its own problems? Is it better to not remember when people are unkind to us?

I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone that hasn’t read it. Don’t be put off by the cover!

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