Review of ‘Flowers for Algernon’ by Daniel Keyes

This classic novel is a masterpiece. I first read it a few years ago and on re-reading recently I appreciated it even more. Although categorised as science fiction, it’s more about emotional trauma and the need for people to be treated equally, regardless of intellectual ability. Other themes include dysfunctional families, the joy of learning and the brevity of life.

The story is narrated by Charlie Gordon, a man with a low IQ who is eager to learn but the knowledge never sticks. He works a menial job at a bakery, where he is mocked by those he thinks are his friends. He had a terrible childhood as his mother abused him and locked him away, not being able to accept a ‘moron’ as her son. After his desire to ‘be smart’ is picked up by a teacher at adult education college, Charlie is chosen to be the first human to try an experimental operation to increase his intelligence, following its apparent success in a mouse called Algernon.

What increases the poignancy of the story is Charlie’s writing style, which is in the format of progress reports reflecting on how he’s feeling and how the experiment is going. The spelling, grammar and choice of words all reflect his rapidly developing knowledge and reinforce the point that he is a human being, not a scientist’s creation or a laboratory specimen. He is also increasingly aware that his fate is tied into that of Algernon the mouse.

The book is excellently crafted, thought-provoking and very sad. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be set in the future, but it feels contemporary to the year in which it was published, 1966.

The SF Masterworks edition was published by Gollancz in 2000.

8 thoughts on “Review of ‘Flowers for Algernon’ by Daniel Keyes”

  1. I too loved this novel when I read it – many years ago now. Although I rarely ever read science fiction, this novel seemed to transcend the genre. It was SO much more.

    1. It’s one of those crossover books and I feel that because it’s published under a science fiction imprint, potential readers (who wouldn’t normally read SF) might miss out. I’m sure to re-read at some point. Thanks for your comment šŸ™‚

  2. I re-read Flowers for Algernon last summer and enjoyed it very much. I also watched the movie, which IMO wasn’t as good because it was very dated. Still, it was interesting to see the story adapted to the screen. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    1. I thought the film version was OK but you’re right, it’s dated. I’m glad you enjoyed your re-reading šŸ™‚ Thank you for commenting.

  3. I absolutely love that the writing style evolves too! And can actually be seen by the reader. I believe I have this on my TBR and will definitely want to get around to it now. Thanks for this wonderful review! šŸ˜€

    1. It’s such a brilliant book, I really hope you get round to it. Thank you for your comment :)ā™„

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