This is a stand-alone science fiction book and it’s part of my Take a Chance challenge. My brother recommended it for me so it’s number 2 on the list: Loved one’s choice. I was a bit surprised to find out that it had been translated into Finnish and was still in the library system. Keyes is a new author to me, so this book will also be part of the the New Author challenge.

Publication year of the original short story: 1958, of the novel: 1966
Format: Print, a Finnish translation
Page count: 299
The translation’s publisher: WSOY
Translator: Hilkka Pekkanen
Publication year of the translation: 1985

Charlie Gordon is a grown man but his IQ is only 68. He can live on his own and has even a job at the local bakery as a cleaner and a delivery boy. All his life, he’s wanted to be smart and so he starts night classes at the Beekman College Center for Retarded Adults. There, he becomes a test subject in two scientists’ experiment to increase the intelligence of mentally disabled people. They have made the same surgery to a mouse called Algernon before trying it on Charlie.

Charlie writes progress reports about what he has done during the day and also about his dreams and thoughts. At first, it’s very difficult for him. He doesn’t know much about grammar and it’s difficult to remember anything about his past. However, as the days go by, it’s clear to see that his writing improves as does his understanding of the world around him. Perhaps the most striking change is that Charlie starts to understand how people treat him. Previously, he considered the people at the bakery as kind and friendly. However, now he starts to understand that they are laughing at him, and not with him. Soon, his intellect rises above normal people and he starts having trouble with this few relationships. There’s also the concern that the change might not be permanent. He also wrestled with his past and inner demons, particularly with his sexuality.

At the start of the book, Charlie writes down the events during the day and pretty soon the reader realizes that the people around him don’t respect him at all even though Charlie himself doesn’t understand it. Then when he starts to understand it, he’s angry at first but later he accepts it as a price for having friends at all. Charlie, too, wants to fit in and be part of the group as all humans do.

When he starts to remember things about his past, it becomes obvious that his childhood wasn’t happy. His parents argued a lot. His mother tried at first to ignore his limited mental abilities and tried to force him to learn to read and write and do other things that normal boys do. Then, when she has to admit that Charlie isn’t going to be normal, she spends a lot of money trying to cure him. She also beat into him that he shouldn’t think about girls or try to touch them. Charlie’s father was kinder to him but he didn’t stop Charlie’s mother from beating him. Other kids also teased him mercilessly. Charlie’s younger sister was also teased because of Charlie and she took it out on him.

When Charlie’s intelligence rises, he starts to fall in love with the woman who is teaching at the night school. Alice Kinnion knows about the experiment and is reluctant to have a relationship with Charlie because she suspects that Charlie’s emotional growth can’t match his intellectual growth. She’s right. Charlie’s subconscious mind remembers that he shouldn’t be touching women and it makes their relationship difficult at best. Also, Charlie’s intelligence quickly rises far above Alice’s and they have difficulty even talking with each other.

Eventually, Charlie’s IQ reaches 185 and at that point he starts to feel like everyone around him are frauds because they don’t speak twenty languages and know even the basics about every science, as he does. He also resents it when Nemur and Strauss, the men making the experiment, treat him like a lab rat who wasn’t human before the surgery.

The book looks at how mentally disabled people are treated by the people around them; often ridiculed and taken advantage of and their basic needs are ignored. Charlie wonders how people who wouldn’t hurt a blind man, can mistreat him because they know he can’t understand what is done to him.

Edited to add: This is a classic book and I don’t feel like I have much to contribute to the many reviews about it. However, it’s touching and even heart-wrenching at times, especially near the end. Certainly worth reading.

The characters are diverse and feel very human to me. Perhaps is was a cliché that Charlie fell for the one adult woman he’s ever known, but he didn’t have many choices.

I was rather distracted with the SF elements; I fairly certain the mice and human brains aren’t so similar that they can be operated on the same way and get the same result. Also, other surgeries effects don’t fade with time. But that’s a side issue, really. The main theme is the treatment of humans around you.

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