Amber Tucker's Reviews > A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
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Apr 19, 12

bookshelves: shelf-of-honour, viewless-wings-of-poesy, 2nd-time-around, des-classiques, has-been-a-movie, recommended-by-brad
Recommended to Amber by: Brad, Amanda
Recommended for: Anyone who loves 'amoral' reading material, LOL
Read from August 20 to 23, 2010

Alex, A-lex or the millicents? The malchick or the rozzes? The criminal or the lawful life-breakers? "What's it going to be then, eh?" That last is Burgess's recurring line, and I dare say that it's the theme of the book. And the root of the question, as defined through the course of the book, becomes the scum or the scum? Damnit, this book is about scum. We're all scum. Or are we?

There's no way around it; everything and anything we do is violent. Including opposing violence. Looking at it objectively – and Burgess forces a reader to do so, through the clear unreliability of his narrator – society and social control is all a play of opposites. Opposing forces, neither entirely good nor bad; it is our judgement of one or the other as deserving-of-life or not that creates many of our 'problems.'

Nobody in the book is really likeable. It's hard, though, not to take A-lex's side: what could possibly be more endearing than the ever-confidential address of "O my brothers"? Yep, it helps to sucker a reader in, all right. Of course, I can't write a review without mentioning the nadsat, which absolutely made me swoon. I agree wholeheartedly with Burroughs, on both counts: few other authors have done so much with language, and this is a very funny book. Why do people find it's hard to read? I didn't think so at all. It's so very clear what he means, so flowing, so easy to get into. Within the first third of the book, I found myself wanting to speak in Alex's idiom. (Yeah, Mum, almost set for the nochy's campfire, I just need a malenky wash for my grahzny litso.) If I'd done an essay on this like I had a chance to in university, darn it, I would have investigated the transformation of Russian to nadsat, and all its implications. Ah well... another day.... back to these comments.

As I turned pages in the second half of the book, I was partly musing over a comparison with Nineteen Eighty-Four , and have decided – though that's not quite fair; I haven't read it in years, need to reread – that I prefer Anthony Burgess's take on things. Are humans malleable but limited, open to manipulation and irreparable change (Orwell) or are they creatures of infinite choice (Burgess)? My impression of Nineteen Eighty-Four was that it despaired of humanity all the way though. Such a work has its place. A Clockwork Orange doesn't despair of people, but laughs at them, and in my current mental order, I like this way best. Anybody who can read this book and feel depressed is mistaking Burgess's "point", I feel. Yes, there are certainly issues here, heavy ones, probably the hardest that exist anywhere in this universe. These being thus, I will not touch them. The painstaking prodding of human nature, it's so mind-bending and yet (to some, like Burgess) so obvious, that it's almost a non-issue. Alex's story succeeds in setting this to one side, for the sake of making us shake our heads, half in laughter, half in disgust, only to realize we're doing so at our own society, and at ourselves. The art of irony, O my brothers. And, Burgess hints, in most trying times this is the wisest thing we can do, either at his story or at the world.


'Good grief,' Burgess seems to say. 'Violence is there. We are violence. Life is violence. Get over it.' Which opinion is Zen and Beat and all things wise. It's a daring stand, but one I'm willing to stand up for. Morality does not exist separately from selfishness, and the sooner we realize it, the less muddled we'll all be about who we are and what we ought to be aiming for here. It's not depressing, no. It's freeing, because it's the rock-bottom truth. And it gives us permission to step outside the traditional bounds of morality, nudges us to raise an eyebrow at the legitimacy of any 'moral' position.

(I could go on... but I won't. I'll go read Mr. Morrison's introduction, which I've saved, and discover some sky-high literary-philosophical insights that make me want to take all this back. But if you've read this far, thank you for respecting my own thoughts so kindly, and all that cal.)
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Brad Wow. Just wow.


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