Book Review: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Genre: Science Fiction

Publishing Info: January 2002 by Gollancz (first published 1958)

Pages: 224

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

Charlie Gordon, IQ 68, is a floor sweeper, and the gentle butt of everyone’s jokes, until an experiment in the enhancement of human intelligence turns him into a genius. But then Algernon, the mouse whose triumphal experimental transformation preceded his, fades and dies, and Charlie has to face the possibility that his salvation was only temporary.

Having enjoyed novels such as Brave New World, 1984 and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I want to read more classic science-fiction. Gollancz’s SF Masterworks collection has an eclectic mix of classic sci-fi books, of which Flowers for Algernon is the most recent I have delved into.

The book is written in an epistolary form using the progress reports that Charlie has to write before and after the experiment to increase his intelligence. I found this book very insightful and very much had a connection to the main character and their story as I was reading it. A problem I had with Brave New World and 1984 was I didn’t care all that much about the characters. That wasn’t really a problem as such for those books, as a certain narrative distance seems appropriate for them. It was refreshing to read a classic sci-fi novel in which I connected so much to the protagonist, as I hadn’t experience that with the others I have read so far.

I found it really interesting and sad how Charlie is treated by others, both because of his lack of intelligence and how he is treated as an experiment. One of the psychologists even has the view that Charlie wasn’t even human before the experiment. I haven’t known anybody with ‘low IQ’ (as the book puts it) or learning difficulties so I don’t know if the portrayal of Charlie is realistic.

The last thirty-or-so pages was utterly heart breaking and that was when I realised how into the book I had got, and how invested in the story I was.

I think this is a very important novel. It’s one of those science-fiction stories that are very thought-provoking, and make you think about the way you see the world and the society we live in.