Anthony Burgess – A Clockwork Orange

“What gets into you all? We study the problem and we’ve been studying it for damn well near a century, yes, but we get no further with our studies.”


Quick synopsis: Alex is a trendy malchick who also indulges in ultraviolence. After a night of crime with his droogs, he is arrested and imprisoned. There, he is the first subject in an experimental treatment in order to gain an earlier release. Will his previous wrongdoings come back to haunt him?

Thoughts and feelings: The first thing that got me when I last opened the book was the language and to be honest, it was a struggle this time around. It wasn’t until I read online that it was the slang of the world that Burgess was creating before I started the book anew and began reading. At first, it was a minefield but I gritted my teeth and ploughed through. After the first and second chapter, I read chapter analyses to make sure I was following the story correctly (as in, interpreting the language and what was happening) and carried on.

A Clockwork Orange is set out almost like a three-act play. Act one maps out Alex’s downfall, act two is his recovery and act three is his redemption. It is written as if it is a stream of consciousness throughout the book, often punctuated with “O my brothers” and the like, and if we’re going to use theatre terminology it’s a soliloquy of sorts.

For me, this book was tough to read. Part one is littered with Nadsat [by the way, “horrorshow” is one of my new favourite words, which is just a malenky horroshow], it is unstructured and can be hard to follow – probably because the narrator himself is also unstructured and hard to follow. Also, part one is vile. I mean, I expected it and it wasn’t graphic in the way Playing with Fire was graphic, but the implication was there. If you do intend to read this following this post, then be aware of trigger warnings, because part one is not pleasant.

Part two was where it was interesting because it focused on Alex’s “recovery” which was the usage of the controversial “conversion” therapy to sway Alex from his ultraviolence ways, which works and interesting to read. It was interesting to me, because I started seeing Alex not as a criminal, but as a victim of his own fate, ie. had he not been a criminal, he would not be in conversion therapy. Part three focuses on his “redemption”, a word I use lightly. Basically, everyone that Alex committed an offence against in part one, gets their karmic retribution back on him. Did I particularly like this? Probably not as much as part two. I mean, it was better than part one, definitely, but it was a slow descent from part two. Parts two and three had remarkably less Nadsat, which also made for a pleasant read.

I read somewhere that the last chapter was omitted from several publications of the book, and I was surprised. I think the last chapter wraps up the book rather well. We see Alex growing up, and most people might not like a “neat” ending like that but I do. I mean, not that I particularly think Alex is a nice person, but the story goes full circle in a way and it would be wrong for it not to end in the Korova Milkbar. I honestly don’t think I would have liked A Clockwork Orange as much as I do without the last chapter.

Overall, it was a good read. Honestly, I took it chapter by chapter for part one – needing to psych myself up but I whizzed through parts two and three in a single train journey. I wouldn’t think I need to read it again now, but I will, probably next year or the year after.

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