Discussion location: Apres, Summer Row

Chosen by: Claire

Reason for choice: Studied for A Level, wanted to see how it felt 12 years later.


This classic American novel set in a 1960s mental institution portrays the effect that one patient, McMurphy, has on the patients of the institution.  Made even more famous by the 1975 film adaptation and Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of the character, it was difficult for many UCBC members to detach the two. Moreover, so much has been written about the novel that it is almost impossible to say something innovative.  So I’ll be brief.

The novel is initially hard to get into, with a direct writing style and literal dialect that is at times difficult to comprehend—but hey, it’s narrated by the resident of a mental institution, so that’s to be expected.  Indeed, some of the imagery present in the novel, such as the machinery and the fog, is harsh and unsubtle. For most of us, the moments of action were preferable to the Chief’s descriptive narrative. Likewise, the Chief is a difficult character to relate to, and seemed to be more of a mouthpiece for the story than a believable character in his own right.

Despite this, the novel’s story and some of the action is enjoyable enough to have made this novel endeavour. With some incredibly sad parts, the narrative is also laugh-out-loud funny in parts, especially in McMurphy’s relentless attempts to tip Nurse Ratchett over the edge.  In particular, the character of McMurphy really sells the novel (and in turn, the film) regardless of the narration and the style.  McMurphy is the novel’s tragic hero, awakening the institutions inhabitants, showing them the importance of laughter, swindling them, but ultimately freeing them.

It is McMurphy who instigates the two most memorable parts of the novel, the boat trip and the party, moments that are both heart warming and devastating.  The notion that laughter is what makes us human is particularly memorable.  Ultimately, the power of the novel is its ability to provoke thought and discussion; thought about the changing nature of society and what is deemed acceptable, about how we treat each other, and how we need people like McMurphy to bring about change.  Need I say more?

Overall rating: 7/10