A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange Book Cover

Author: Anthony Burgess
Winner: Prometheus Award, Hall of Fame, 2008
Original Publication: 1962
Genre(s): Science Fiction, Satire
#437 on “1,001 Books to Read Before You Die”

I had the pleasure of reading the version with the (very snarky) foreword by Anthony Burgess. It seems that the movie version, and the version of the novel released in America, were missing the critical last chapter (a decision by the publisher), which gives ‘A Clockwork Orange’ a distinctly different feel. I highly recommend reading it, but if your copy has twenty chapters, it is missing the twenty-first. While the 20-chapter version ends on a bleak note, thus “making it more appealing for the American audience”, the 21st allows a glimmer of hope that protagonist Alex has seen the error of his ways. The decision to leave out the final chapter in previous versions of the novel was described by Burgess himself as “badly flawed.”

Alex is a horribly violent disenfranchised fifteen-year old. The only bright member of his gang, he leads them on nightly binges of drugs, random violence, rape, theft, and other unsavory activities. This eventually culminates in Alex being arrested and subjected to the “Ludovico Treatment”; that is, a two-week course guaranteed to reprogram criminals not to commit further crimes by subjecting them to an overdose of stimuli. In short, showing them an overdose of violence so madly over the top as to make them physically ill, thereby removing the desire to inflict violence on others.

Another interesting aspect of the novel is that the language that Alex and his friends use is nearly completely slang. I first thought it was a fictionalized version of Cockney, but it turns out that it’s largely based on Cockney-izing Russian words. The language is referred to as Nadsat, and a translation of words commonly used in the novel can be found here: Nadsat. Much like reading Shakespeare, you muddle through the first few pages as you trip over the language, and then it becomes second nature as you immerse yourself in the context.

The following short review offers a taste of the language used in the book:

“I viddied the sinny before I read this veshch, which is most unfortunate. Once I had a chance to run my glazzies over the pages I was surprised, O my brothers, for I found the book to be real horrorshow. The nadsat language is quite oomny, even though the slovos are a malenky bit difficult on the gulliver at first. Indeed it is a raskazz for like vecks and ptitsas both. It hardly left my rookers at all that nochy. I recommend it to you, my faithful droogs, even if you’re not interested in a bit of the old ultra-violence.” – Nicole M.

I was reluctant to read it (I have not seen the film) due to the violent nature of the novel and the general feel that it’s a highly disturbing story, but I was glad that I did. That said, however, it IS highly disturbing and violent.

Fun Fact: In a prefatory note to A Clockwork Orange: A Play with Music, Burgess wrote that the title was a metaphor for “…an organic entity, full of juice and sweetness and agreeable odour, being turned into an automaton.”

Bother if: You like dystopias, science fiction, social commentary, creative use of language.

Don’t bother if: You dislike books which invent their own languages, are particularly sensitive to extreme violence, or read books in order to be uplifted. This is not a tale for everyone.

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