This American science fiction by Daniel Keyes, published as a short story in the 50s and released as a novel in the 60s (that which I read), depicts the life of mentally retarded Charlie Gordon, subject of a revolutionary surgery to increase intelligence, via a series of ‘progress reports’. Algernon is the mouse on which the surgical technique was tested. Charlie turns slowly during the weeks after the surgery, from being mentally a child, to a genius. We see the memories of his troubled childhood brought back and elucidated under Charlie’s new awareness of the world, coming with it sexual and romantic desires, and internal conflicts with the frightened vestige of his unaware self. His basic cognitive functions improve remarkably leading him, among many other conquests, to eventually take a more vital part in the study of his surgery than his doctors. Later on, the hope that Charlie’s surgery would be permanent is threatened.
It’s a really lovely book. (I’ve been noting that my reviews are all positive: I suspect this is because I intentionally pick books to read that I’m fairly sure I will enjoy, ones for which I’ve heard praise from sources close to my intellectual heart.) The characterisation is well-done, and it’s nice how our knowledge of Charlie as a person unfolds throughout, in line with his own growing self-awareness. The themes, how ‘normal’ people interact with abnormal people, are explored tactfully and, one presumes, insightfully. The relatively rapid transition of Charlie’s also includes interesting ideas about the nature of intelligence and thought. Also interesting is the internal dialogue of a mentally deficient brain trying to figure out the universe with limited resources.
I’m not sure what my next book will be.