Flowers for Algernon

Book cover of Flowers for Algernon.


Flowers for Algernon is a Hugo and Nebula award-winning novel about Charlie Gordon, a man with intellectual disabilities who undergoes surgery to enhance his cognitive abilities. While it is a beautifully crafted narrative, it failed to captivate me.

Flowers for Algernon is written as a series of progress reports by Charlie, both before and after his surgery. Keyes skillfully utilizes Charlie’s writing style to convey the gradual improvement in his intellect, and he does an equally remarkable job towards the end: it is an emotional moment when the typos reappear after a hundred pages, indicating Charlie’s cognitive decline.

But, the storyline itself felt predictable: I anticipated that it would depict Charlie’s realization of the complexities in his world—that his friends were not truly his friends, and that his family was not the protective support system he had hoped for. Several times while reading, I could see what must be coming in the next few pages, which left me to grit my teeth and push through to the next plot point. At other times, especially when Charlie was enduring the abuse of his mother, I contemplated abandoning the book altogether.

There are some interesting parallels between Flowers for Algernon and Blindsight and Echopraxia: specifically regarding how altering the mind changes one’s identity, and if the change is significant enough, it creates a different person altogether. Flowers for Algernon’s depiction of Charlie literally seeing the “other person” out in the world was an clever approach to illustrate this concept.

In the end thought, a book that has some great components, but doesn’t come together for me.