A psychological science fiction multiple award winning novel that explores the nature of intelligence, and it’s effect on interpretations of self-identity, the world, relationships, and memory. The eponymous Algernon is a white laboratory mouse who has undergone surgery to increase his intelligence by artificial means, a fate which soon follows for a young man called Charlie Gordon, IQ 68.
Easily the strength of the novel lies in the exceptional character arc of Charlie, who traverses the entire hero’s journey almost completely internally. The reader experiences Charlie’s thoughts and emotions first hand, as the novel is presented in the form of progress reports over the course of the experiment. The initial bad spelling and grammar provides a stark and visceral contrast to his increased intelligence over time, which eventually surpasses the professors who designed the surgical enhancements.
“My name is Charlie Gordon…I am 32 years old…I don’t no why Im dumb…or what I did rong. Maybe its because I dint try hard enuf. ”
With the increase in intelligence, Charlie slowly remembers abuse he has unwittingly endured his entire life. His co-workers in the bakery laugh at him more than they laugh with him, but he soon recognizes the hidden cruelty for what it really is. A flood of memories rush to the surface, particularly of a mother who only wanted a “normal” son, and a father who couldn’t keep her from sending him away. The pace slows down slightly during this period, but not enough to cause any real issues. Concepts like free love and outdated archetypes date the story, but didn’t bother me.
Soon, Algernon’s condition starts to deteriorate, and Charlie takes matters into his own hands, reflecting on their own perilous journeys out of the cave of shadows.
Recommended for everyone.
“And now – Plato’s words mock me in the shadows on the ledge behind the flames… the men of the cave would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes.”