Having viewed the film adaption, I knew what I was in for, but what I wasn’t prepared for, was how much I would enjoy the book. Feelings of guilt at my reading enjoyment haunt me, a la Lolita, yet I must declare, A Clockwork Orange, one fine piece of work.
While vicious violence is at the forefront of this uber dystopian tale, what lurks beneath, was the ages-old battle of good vs. evil and man’s ability to make his own choices. This message rang much louder than it did in the film, where it was more subtle or perhaps more difficult to discern amongst the onslaught of gore.
Written in the ’60’s, the setting is somewhere in England at an unspecified time in the future. Violent teenagers rule the nights where it has become unsafe for children and adults and the absence of police has made it downright dangerous. In an attempt at restoring order, violent offenders become subjects of Ladovico’s Technique. This method involves extreme exposure to all forms of violence while the subject is strapped to a chair with his eyelids taped open. This conditioning is hoped to eventually convert the offender into unpleasant physical reactions at even the slightest hint of violence. ‘Nuff said, most have seen the movie…
The book also uses nadsat, the lingo of the teen punks throughout. While this could have been a distraction, it flowed quite nicely and was easy to catch on to. The dichotomy of language when the narrator speaks nadsat with his droogs and then switches effortlessly to a more formal speech is so striking that you could almost see the condescending sneer on his face.
What I found quite interesting was learning the 1986 edition included a previously omitted final chapter. Burgess claims his publisher asked it be removed prior to release while the publisher claims it was a mere suggestion and not a condition of publication. This chapter does change the book’s message and apparently Kubrick based his movie on the American edition (sans final chapter).
Alex, our humble narrator, as he likes to refer to himself is a 15-year-old punk who truly enjoys not only acting out violently, but viewing acts perpetrated by others. He intimidates his parents, his friends, and strangers without remorse. His only diversion is classical music which becomes unbearable after his reclamation at the hands of the state.
One of Alex’s victims, F. Alexander, is the author of a book entitled A Clockwork Orange , which is destroyed during an attack. His wife, brutally raped and beaten later dies. Alexander’s active criticism of the government plays an ironic role when he becomes reacquainted with his tormentor. An interesting character who seems to stand for righteousness, but is willing to sacrifice others to prove a point.
Another victim, Jack, is heading home at night from the library, with an armful of books when he is brutally attacked. His pleas are met with disdain and he is left badly beaten, his books destroyed. When Jack and Alex reconnect, the outcome is providential. I can’t help but like a man who defends his honor and his books with equality.
It would be real horrowshow to sit with Mr. Burgess, who’d likely try to shock me with some outrageousness. I’d act all calm and hope he wouldn’t think me gloopy. Translation-I’d enjoy spending time with the author who I believe likes to shock. I’d act cool and hope he’d not think me dim.
My rating for A Clockwork Orange is a 9 out of 10.
To see the entire list, visit Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels.
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