My favourite writers all disobey the conventions of writing in some way. Whether it’s Stephen King, reaching critical acclaim after years of literary snobbery, or Cormac McCarthy’s lack of dialogue tags. But one of my absolute favourite rebels with a pen is Ken Kesey, who wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest whilst experimenting with LSD.
“What can you pay for the way a man lives? What can you pay for what a man is?” – Chief Bromden
When I attended university, oh so many years ago, I had the chance to speak with Ken Kesey on the phone. He had agreed to have a chat about the Merry Pranksters for a presentation I was due to give. I put off calling him because I was nervous of asking the wrong questions or coming across as ill-informed about the counter-culture movement.
I kept putting off the call and eventually I let too much time elapse from my initial enquiry to his office and I missed my chance to speak with him.
I regretted this a few weeks later when he passed away. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a wonderful novel, that despite Kesey’s experimentation with LSD, has a fairly conventional narrative and it is lucid in its hard hitting damnation of the “system”. Kesey bucks the trend when looking at mental health, disobeying the perceived wisdom of the state and asking the question.
Who really are the mad people in society? Those who are just getting along or those who electrocute and beat vulnerable people in the name of treatment.
It is a powerful book full of visceral imagery and it is one of my favourites.