Review: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

 PAPERVIEW UK LTD, 2007/1962

From Goodreads:

A vicious fifteen-year-old “droog” is the central character of this 1963 classic, whose stark terror was captured in Stanley Kubrick’s magnificent film of the same title.

In Anthony Burgess’s nightmare vision of the future, where criminals take over after dark, the story is told by the central character, Alex, who talks in a brutal invented slang that brilliantly renders his and his friends’ social pathology. A Clockwork Orange is a frightening fable about good and evil, and the meaning of human freedom. When the state undertakes to reform Alex—to “redeem” him—the novel asks, “At what cost?”

I bought this book about a year ago from Oxfam for about two pounds. I never got down to reading it at the time and it has been gathering dust in my bookshelf. And it might still be there if not for the Week of Banned Books.

The book is a story of a 15-year-old Alex who loves classical music and violence. To begin with the combination was absurd, and I must confess that I absolutely hated Alex for the first 40 pages of this book. I’m also a fan of classical music and I was repelled by the way this music was associated with the ultra-violence. Yes, I literally threw the book across the room at this point.

After a night of violence, Alex and his friends break into a house owned by an old cat lady and in the midst of the fight Alex kills the woman. He is betrayed by his friends, gets caught and sent to prison. He is given a sentence of 15 years, but after two years the Goverment decides that it needs new ways of cutting down crime. Thus the Ludovician method of turning bad into good. This is basically brainwashing, mental torture, and the sad part is that Alex, in his youthful glee of being released earlier, does not understand what he is signing himself up to. At this point I started to feel pity towards the main character.

The book is written in Nadsat, a slang used by Your Humble Narrator (Alex) and his peers. Burgess describes it as a combination of Russian, English, rhyming slang and gypsy language. My edition of A Clockwork Orange had a Glossary at the back, which I had to consult several times during the book. But the brain quickly adopts the new language and it is actually rewarding after you learn the basic nouns and verbs.

The world that Burgess describes is a terrifying one – there’s violence everywhere. I have not seen Stanley Kubrik’s movie version of the book and honestly, I don’t even plan on watching it for a while. I’m not a fan of violent movies and/or books and I did struggle with this book. But at the same time I though it was a good read. As some of you might know, Burgess wrote the book into three parts, each of which had 7 chapters. But when the book was first published in the States, the last part had only 6 chapters. This changes the book dramatically. I think that the editions sold today all have the final chapter so you can compare the difference between the original and the US version.

For me, this book was an odd one. It is not the genre I usually read and left me unsettled. I once heard someone say that if they don’t like the main character, it ruins the book for them. I definitely did not like Alex but in the course of the book I came to see him as a human being and I did feel sorry for him. That said, I do recommend the book. It is gripping, it is terrible, and it raises questions about what is right and what is wrong. Can we force people to be good or do we have a right to choose?


What’s it going to be then, eh?


3 thoughts on “Review: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

  1. Pingback: Clockwork Orange Film Review - Eradicator Reviews

  2. Great review! Economical as always! 😉
    I saw mixed reviews all over the Internet about this book.While I didn’t encounter anyone who adored it,I noticed that even those who didn’t like the story had some interesting things to say about it.I think it’s the kind of book that leaves no one indifferent.
    It’s great that you don’t deter people from reading the novel(I really like this approach).For instance,I apprehended the Nadsat language,so I’m relieved to know it’s easy to grasp after some point.

    And you should watch the movie some day! It is rated 8.4/10 ( a remarkable score ) and is 69th on IMDB’s top 250 list – in which there are many ”ex-aequos”! Apparently that’s the best movie Stanley Kubrick has ever produced!

    • Thanks! My friends have been trying to get me to watch the movie with them, so it might happen sooner or later. Out of all Kubrick’s films, I’ve only seen Dr. Strangelove (8.5/10 in IMDB) and it definitely was something different – in a good sense!

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