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Flowers for Algernon is a story about a man with extraordinarily low intelligence who wants to learn. He wants to learn, to become smart, more than anything. Charlie gets handpicked for an experiment because of his motivation after successful tests on a mouse called Algernon. After the experimental surgery, his intelligence improves gradually, but soon it becomes exponential. The book follows him on his journey of self-discovery and growth both intellectually and emotionally through his progress reports that we can tentatively call the journal of Charlie Gordon.
It was one of the first books I’ve read in years that I struggled to put down. While this book is a little older, having been written in 1958, it still felt relevant, and it’s hard to tell when the events took place. Perhaps that’s because of the character himself. In the beginning, it is hard to argue that Charlie would even know what year it was or why that was significant. However, as the book progresses, time has little meaning for other reasons - until it means everything.
If you’re a fan of literary minimalism, then the writing style will undoubtedly speak to you. In particular, the descriptive sentences built on the emotion and feeling more than a single word or phrase could ever do. While those scenes and moments did not happen often, they only added to the overall weight of those particular sentences when they did. The flow of the writing is impressive and changes throughout the book, a necessity, as you’ll see.
I found myself relating to some of the main character’s thoughts as he became more intelligent and cynical. Reading is often a lonely pastime, and anyone reading the book would relate to him somehow, as was undoubtedly intended. It wouldn’t be as sad if you didn’t.
“Somehow I’ve become separated emotionally from everyone and everything.” - Charlie Gordon, Flowers for Algernon.
Through the narration presented as his progress reports or journal, you get to know him as well as you could know anyone. You learn about his past, about his fears, his dreams, and desires. His relationship with Alice Kinnian was heartwarming and, like with all the characters in the book, tragic. The story has its moral messages, but it is more than a fable. Some call it sci-fi, others a tragedy, some a romance. I feel like Charlie Gordon would say that the labels don’t matter because that’s missing the larger picture.
After reading it, and without giving away too many spoilers, I can’t help but think the story was an allegory for life in general. We all go through the process of birth to awakening to death, we are everchanging, and nothing can stay the same. No matter how painful it is.
It’s hard to recommend it next to anything else I’ve read, so all I’ll say is read it, make it your next read, and you’ll never forget it because it sticks with you.
It is a book that will challenge you to think and maybe even change you. It will make you laugh and cry. In the end, you will wish there was no end.
Thank you to my friend for recommending it to me!