1.) October is National Book Month, tell us about the best book you’ve read so far this year.
This tiny novel shook me up in ways no other book or movie has done. “There and back again” – the words of Bilbo Baggins shed a gut-wrenching perspective for this book. Presenting my two cents…
A brief summary: Algernon is a laboratory mouse who has undergone surgery to increase his intelligence levels and the protagonist is Charlie Gordon (Charly), the first human test subject for the surgery. The book follows his incredible journey as a mentally challenged man with an IQ of 68 who becomes highly intelligent and pushes the limits of genius and then his subsequent fall back to being disabled again.
The narration of the novel is through a series of progress reports which serve as an amazing reflection of Charlie’s mind. Initially, the reports are full of spelling errors, obscure constructions and child-like talks. Post operation, there is a marked improvement in his grammar, choice of words and the depth of his thoughts. Some of the quotes from the book are simple and misleadingly so. They delicately capture the gravity and the inner turmoil Charlie goes through at different stages. An example:
On slowly developing an understanding of language after the experiment: “Punctuation, is? fun!” (That joy and innocence! Don’t you just want to give him a hug?)
The heartbreak as he goes back to his earlier style as his regression sets in: “Please … please … dont let me forget how to reed and rite… “
Important themes running through the book include the (mis)treatment of the differently-abled, the inconsistency between intellect and emotions, the influence of past over present demeanor and many such elusive issues. The internal conflict Charlie faces for seemingly mundane issues is exquisite. For instance, he develops sexual awareness at 33 but has no grasp of dealing with it and the emotional relationships. Or the disconnect between his heightened intellect and emotional maturity through his utter confusion in accepting his feelings for Alice (his former tutor). In contrast, he is drawn to Algernon and develops a unique kinship with the mouse. Charlie also seeks out his family who had let him go when he was a child. The hesitation with his father and the emotional reconnection with his younger sister are stunning.
There is an incident where he sees a mentally disabled server at a restaurant, who goofs up and has the entire place laughing at him. Initially Charlie joins in but is later appalled as he realizes that he, as Charly had been subjected to the same mockery. The sickening realization that all his ‘friends’ had only been using him as entertainment is spelled out lucidly. Presently, when he is treated as a commodity and tagged as a “lab subject”, he minces no words –
“How can I make him understand that he did not create me? He makes the same mistake as the others when they look at a feeble-minded person and laugh because they don’t understand there are human feelings involved.”
This short novel is a must read for anyone and everyone! In those pages lies a treasure trove of thought provoking issues and reality checks for all of us who are seemingly ‘normal’. It raises questions in our heads about our moral standards and exposes how little we really know about the human mind and the human heart. We are a fickle race at times, motivated by material and petty aspirations – the higher, intangible quest mankind launched a thousand years back is now lost in the recesses of our brains. Yet, the novel also points out the outstanding capacity and the unexplored depth of our minds which, when tapped will result in nothing short of a miracle.
Magic really is very much within our reach!
First attempt at Mama Kat’s Pretty Much World Famous writer’s workshop. A bit serious but this book was worth it!