Anyone paying attention to my last few posts will know I’ve been on jury duty for the month. If you’ve really been following closely (hi mum) you might remember I mentioned I chose One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest for jury duty reading. I finished it today, waiting for the umpteenth delay before we could get in the courtroom. (If you ever get summonsed for jury duty – take a good, thick book).
Two people in the jury pool commented on my choice of book. One younger guy sat up over the back of his chair from a couple of rows away to say: “great book”… and another guy said it was a brilliant book and asked if I’d seen the movie, which I had, but about 25 years ago. The movie freaked me out so much, I’ve never wanted to read the book even though my husband owned it when I met him and it has been in our bookshelf for about 15 years.
Guy number one went on to comment that the only thing he didn’t like so much about the book were the Chief’s dream sequences and we had a little chat about that (I promise this isn’t a pick-up line story). I said that I think they were there because the writer wanted to show that Chief had his problems and that’s why he was in the mental hospital in the first place. I also said that most of those dream sequences were in the first third of the book and I thought they were about showing his mental state when he first met McMurphy, versus how by the mid to end of the book, he isn’t hiding in the ‘fog’ of his dreams anymore… So, character arc…
When I started creative writing, one of my first rejection letters was only a couple of lines but it told me I needed to work on “depth and characterisation” and I’ve been trying very hard on those since.
Cuckoo’s Nest amazes me with its characterisation early in the book. He’s talking about the black boys: “sulky and hating everything, the time of day, the place they’re at here, the people they got to work around. When they hate like this, better if they don’t see me. I creep along the wall quiet as dust in my canvas shoes…” And then the Big Nurse… “she slides through the door with a gust of cold and locks the door behind her and I see her fingers trail across the polished steel – tip of each finger the same colour as her lips. Funny orange. Like the tip of a soldering iron. Colour so hot or so cold if she touches you with it you can’t tell which.”
And that’s all on the first page.
I’ve been having so much trouble with the first page, first paragraphs of my book, I’m in awe of the ones I read where I think they get it just right. I know Cuckoo’s Nest is not the same genre as romance, but hooks are hooks and great writing is great writing.
I’ve always been an avid reader but the difference now is I’m paying more attention to how books are written and structured and I think I’m enjoying the experience of reading all the more because of that.
So now my husband is talking about watching the movie again (yep, he owns that too). I said I need a while, but I will probably watch it one day soon. In some ways it’s a shame that the first two movies I saw Jack Nicholson star in were, Cuckoo’s Nest and The Shining. I couldn’t watch anything with Jack Nicholson in it for a hell of a long time, the man scarred me for life.
I had to brush away tears at the end of the book today in the jury room. All through the book I’d been dreading the ending. The scenes with the electric shock treatment and the lobotomy are so clear in my head from the movie all these years later, and Chief throwing that panel through the window and making his escape.
Hubby tells me he always found the story “uplifting” and for the first time today, I can agree with him.