'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' by Ken Keesy is one of the most prominent examples of American fiction in the 20th century. The novel is based, almost entirely on the interactions Keesy had with mental patients while he was working at a mental institution. While he experimented exstensively with LSD, he became very interested in studying the fundamental difference between perception and reality. This led to the production of 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'.
'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' is the intense story of a group of mentally ill patients and their over bearing nurse. This Nurse has complete control over the hospital ward, and the patients are entirely beaten down and so that they do not question her authority. McMurphy arrives - and everything changes. A rouge, a gambler, a criminal who subverts all authority. He challenges the Nurse's power, first as a game, then as a desperate attempt to prove to the patients that life is worth living. He lives with men, who feel that their lives are over, as they helplessly conform to the Nurse's whim.
McMurphy, brings laughter, adventure, women and booze to the small hospital world; most importantly, he provides these men with a hero. They idolise him as a saviour and through their devotion force him to become one, as he gives his life in their defence. Keesy's novel is powerful, and uplifting, yet with a fatalistic note. We know it cannot end happily as the Nurse is a symbol for the whole system of government and McMurphy is only one man. However, the whole novel resonates with power, despite the nihalistic undertones.
This is a fantastic read. However, it is not easy or comfortable.
The film with Jack Nicholson is definitely worth a view.