Have you ever had a look at a retarded person? Life is slower for them, simple objects fascinate them. We may see a spinning top, glance at it once, and then carrying on with the rest of the day as per usual. Someone who’s IQ is below 80 may look at the spinning colors in it, the way it twirls, and the sharp edges catch the light. You’d stare at it for a few long minutes before, your mind could grasp it all. If this makes sense to you, then you’ll probably come closer to understanding the mind of Charlie Gordon.
He’s a simple fellow who works in a bakery. He has willingness to impress those around him, often with a warm smile. He is clumsy, doesn’t always understand humor, and is fascinated with the pictures in comic books.
He is sent to a research lab where Dr Strauss and Dr Nemur tell Charlie Gordon that they have a plan to increase Charlie’s intelligence for good (and make him a normal person). They show him a small white rat called Algernon. Each day they make him run through a maze. They give Algernon a reward if he gets right, they continue to change the layout of the maze. They done a little surgery on his brain so he continues to learn each and every layout.
The two doctors show Charlie their success with Algernon and convince him that he should try the surgery. He accepts. Everyday he is told to write progress reports. Little diary entries to explain what bothers him, what he is going through, and just about anything that comes to mind.
Soon the doctors notice a steady improvement in Mr. Gordon’s intelligence level, and soon his mind starts to break out of the fog of stupidity. His emotions also develop and he finds a better job (instead of fetching and carrying things at the bakery), and meets a woman who is obsessed with ballroom dancing and painting.
It’s not all smooth sailing for Charlie. The people who he once knew, start to resent him for his sharp mind. His life-long love interest (Alice), who used to teach him to read doesn’t feel ready to a relationship with him. He researches and monitors Algernon’s progress with the surgery, and realizes something is wrong. Could his increased intelligence only be temporary?
This book is narrated entirely in the first person which really helps you get into the layers of Gordon’s psyche. I found it very simply written, and yet an intensely moving book. Although not all of us have had a low I.Q. we can all identify with the themes of loss, abuse, love and pathos.
This book I stumbled across by pure chance at a book sale. What I found interesting is it was classified as Science Fiction (SF). I assume something which is SF-based to have space ships, humans attacking aliens, and laser-powered guns. The publisher Victor Gollancz came out with a SF Masterworks series, and this book is one of them.
For those who are hesitant of reading SF, this is far more closely related to the real world, and the struggles we have inside ourselves. It did win the Hugo and Nebula awards, which are helluva prestigious if you’re a SF writer. So go and read this book, I was pleasantly surprised and deeply moved.