A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess

Book #437

Reviewer: t, of as long as i’m singing.

I’ll admit it. I saw the movie first. Look, it was the eighties, and I was a punk kid. And in my circle, it was almost expected that you would understand the references, and know the quotes. So I saw it. And I hated it. I just didn’t get what all the fuss was about. I mean, wasn’t this supposed to be some sort of fictional masterpiece? A book well worth reading, to the point where it could actually be life altering? It made no sense. So much so that I went and picked up the actual book to see what I had missed. And am I ever glad I did.

Now, up until that point, reading was much more of a task for me than a joy. So jumping into a book that includes it’s own dictionary may not have been a wise choice. But “A Clockwork Orange” proved that theory very wrong. The idea behind the dictionary is that since the story takes place in the future, the language is slightly different than our own. It was a daring yet beneficial move on the part of Anthony Burgess, who wrote this bleak novella back in 1962. By using phrases like “horrorshow” and “droog”, he helps to keep the reader actively attentive. “Ultra-violence” also made its first appearance in this book as did, what many in my circle thought was quite funny to say excessively, “the old in-out, in-out.” Reading the story with these phrases strewn throughout, the virgin reader is forced to continually flip forwards and back, between story and dictionary in order to follow along. It made the story portion a bit choppy, but so riveting was it that a second read was imminent after the new phrases were learnt from the first.

The story itself involves a young man by the name of Alex and his gang of four. As young teenagers in a near-future Britain, these characters are thugs and vandals. People with little respect for anything or anyone, up to the point of murder and rape being quite all right, if not in fact hoped for. Alex does have a strange love of Beethoven, which appears to be an island of tranquility, dozily resting upon his sea of turmoil. But only until you realize that he uses it to help him better visualize acts of cruelty. Besides that I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, because much like “Hitchhikers”, this is a story much better discovered than recapped. Much better experienced than reviewed. I will tell you however, that Alex is eventually caught and punished for his deeds. And I will tell you that that is not where the story ends. Also, it should be noted that every single rock video showing a person strapped into a chair with their eyes forcibly opened while watching films, is an ode to that punishment.

Should you decide that there’s enough here to get you to bounce down to your local library or book store and obtain a copy for yourself, please keep several things in mind. First, make sure the version you get has the dictionary included. You’ll be lost without it. Unless you come from a near-future Britain, of course. And if you’re in the U.S., make sure you obtain the version with twenty-one chapters, versus twenty. For some reason, when Burgess brought his book over, U.S. publishers felt that the American audience wouldn’t “go for” the twenty first chapter, and they opted to publish a version including only the first twenty instead. Doing this did a great disservice to the story itself, and to all who read it in this fashion. This was supposedly the version Stanley Kubrick read before making his ill-fated movie, and this may help to explain why he so poorly missed the point.

In short, “A Clockwork Orange” is to books what “Saving Private Ryan” was to movies. You need to read it, even if you can only muster the strength to do so once. It shows a near-future world that is much closer than we’d probably care to admit. All while helping to illuminate the idea that how you perceive the world to be is the world that you will in turn create. And if it were left up to the twenty-first chapter Alex to wrap up this review, I suppose he would most likely say that the book is important, because one should always “viddy well, little brother, viddy well.”

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4 thoughts on “A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess

  1. Ms Oh Waily July 25, 2012 / 2:53 pm

    I finally picked up a copy of this to read.
    Sadly after working my way through a dozen or so pages I have decided to put it down and step quietly away without making any sudden movements.
    The version I have doesn’t have a dictionary, but most of the words can be worked out by context (mostly). I just find the language too jumpy and the effort of trying to work out the meaning to be too much work, frankly.
    Maybe I will work up the courage and energy to get through it all one day – but life is short and there are plenty of accessible books for me on this list – it’s just dropped to #1293….
    until the next time….

    • inspirationalreads July 26, 2012 / 12:57 pm

      It did take at least a good ten or 20 pages to get used to, but once you do it is well worth it. In saying that, I don’t know if I would tackle it now if I hadn’t read it back when I thought of myself as a disenfranchised young woman. Really, I was a bit of a git.

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