Book: A Clockwork Orange
Author: Anthony Burgess
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: 1962
Synopsis from Goodreads:
A vicious fifteen-year-old droog is the central character of this 1963 classic. 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. And when the state undertakes to reform Alex to “redeem” him, the novel asks, “At what cost?”
This was,,,an experience. So I’m reading A Clockwork Orange for school. The first time I picked it up, I took one look at the first page, saw about 32 words that weren’t English, and immediately put the book down. Two weeks later, I picked it up again, got through 9 pages, and put it down again. Finally, another three weeks later, I told myself to just push through this book so that my teacher doesn’t think I’m an idiot. And when I actually forced myself through the first forty pages, I was hooked.
Let’s talk language first. The language Anthony Burgess uses- Nadsat- is slang used by British youth, that is a combination of English, Russian, and some other weird words. For the first two chapters, I felt like I was trying to decipher hieroglyphics. I was constantly going back to the glossary to try to understand what the heck is going on. But as I slowly fell into the rhythm of the language, I started enjoying it. It is poetic and musical in the weirdest way, the words are somehow really up close and personal, but the tone makes everything being said and done feel very distant.
I have to say, this is the most fucked up book I’ve ever read. It was dark, horrifyingly disturbing, with unimaginable violence and violent imagery lacing every page of this book. But what’s really interesting is that it is violent without glorifying violence. The main character and narrator Alex, is clearly a sociopath. He doesn’t feel anything for anyone- their pain, suffering, feelings, none of it makes the slightest difference to him. We read about a narrator full of conflict and chaos who revels in heinous crimes and brutality. And yet half way through the book, we find ourselves sympathising with this narrator. Pitying him for what he’s going through, despite knowing that he wouldn’t even flinch before putting someone else through the same, or even worse. Despite being a rapist, a thieving murder- he likes us, the readers. He trusts us with his innermost thoughts, and somehow with his twisted words and thoughts, he convinces us to like him, to feel for him a bit.
What really sticks with you once you finish the book is the question of morality, which a quote from the book sums up perfectly: “Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps in some way better than a man who has the good imposed upon him?” Is it better to choose to be bad or to condition a society to be good? Free will, or a crime-less society? I don’t wanna give away spoilers, but it’s such a thoughtfully crafted dilemma that left me thinking about the book days after I finished it.
In short, a gripping, twisted, horrifying book in a dystopian world that felt cousin to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaiden’s Tale. Highly recommended.
Have you read A Clockwork Orange? What did you think of Alex? Tell me in the comments below!
Thanks for reading!