Cecily's Reviews > A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
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Feb 18, 15

bookshelves: dystopian, classics, miscellaneous-fiction, language-related
Read from June 28 to July 06, 2012

How to review an infamous book about which so much has already been said? By avoiding reading others’ thoughts until I’ve written mine.

There are horrors in this book, but there is beauty too, and so much to think about. The ends of the book justify the means of its execution, even if the same is not true of what happens in the story.


BOOK vs FILM

I saw the film first, and read the book shortly afterwards. Usually a bad idea, but in this case, being familiar with the plot and the Nadsat slang made it easier to relax (if that's an appropriate word, given some of the horrors to come) into the book. The film is less hypnotic and far more shocking than the book, because it is more visual and because it ignores the more optimistic final chapter (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clockwor...).

PLOT AND STRUCTURE

It is a short novel, comprising three sections of seven chapters, told by “your humble narrator”, Alex. In the first section, Alex and his teenage gang indulge in “ultra-violence” (including sexual assault of young girls); in the middle section, Alex is in prison and then undergoes a horrific new treatment (a sort of aversion therapy); the final section follows him back in the real world, rejected by his parents, now the puppet of opposing political factions. The whole thing is set in a slightly dystopian, very near future and explores issues of original sin, punishment and revenge, free will, and the nature of evil.

One awful incident involves breaking in to a writer’s house and gang raping his wife, who later dies. A similar incident happened to Burgess’ first wife (though he wasn’t there at the time). Writing a fictionalised account from the point of view of the perpetrator is extraordinary: charitable, cathartic, or a more complex mixture?

THEMES

Why is Alex as he is? “What I do I do because I like to do”, and perhaps there is no more that can be said. As Alex ponders, “this biting of their toe-nails over what is the CAUSE of badness is what turns me into a fine laughing malchick. They don’t go into the cause of GOODNESS… badness is of the self… and that self is made by old Bog or God and is his great pride and radosty”.

So, can people like Alex be cured, and if so, how? Imprisonment, police brutality, fire and brimstone don’t work. Enter the Ludovico Technique, whereby Alex is injected with emetics before being strapped, with his eyelids held open, to watch videos of extreme physical and sexual violence. He becomes conditioned to be unable to commit such acts, or even to watch or think about them. This raises more questions than it solves. The prison governor prefers the old “eye for an eye”, but has to give in to the new idea of making bad people good. “The question is whether such a technique can really make a man good. Goodness comes from within… Goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man.” The chaplain has doubts, too, “Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps in some way better than a man who has the good imposed upon him?” On the other hand, by consenting to the treatment, Alex is, in an indirect way, choosing to be good.

The technique (or torture) is promoted as making Alex “sane” and “healthy” so that he can be “a free man”, but although he is released from prison, he remains imprisoned by the power of the technique, even to the extent that the music he loves now makes him sick (because it was playing in the background) and his inability to defend himself means he becomes a victim.

But do the ends justify the means? Dr Brodsky thinks so: “We are not concerned with motive, with the higher ethics. We are only concerned with cutting down crime.” However, if it wears off, it will all have been for nothing.

The final chapter (omitted from US editions of the book until 1986, and also the film) feels incongruously optimistic in some ways, but by suggesting the true answer as to what will cure delinquency is… maturity, it might be thought the most pessimistic chapter. Is teen violence an inevitable cycle: something people grow into, and then out of when they start to see their place in the bigger picture? And if so, is that acceptable to society?

The possibility of redemption is a common thread, reaching its peak in this final chapter. Burgess was raised as a Catholic, educated in Catholic schools, but lost his faith aged sixteen. He continued to have profound interest in religious ideas, though, as explained here: http://www.anthonyburgess.org/burgess....

LANGUAGE – AND NADSAT SLANG

A distinctive feature of the book is the Nadsat slang that Alex and his droogs use (“nadsat” is the Russian suffix for “teen” – see http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/20...). Burgess invented it from Russian with a bit of Cockney rhyming slang and Malay, because real teen slang is so ephemeral, the book would quickly seem dated otherwise. He wanted the book published without a glossary, and it is written so carefully, that the meaning is usually clear, and becomes progressively so, as you become accustomed to it: “a bottle of beer frothing its gulliver off and a horrorshow rookerful of like plum cake” and “There’s only one veshch I require… having my malenky bit of fun with real droogs”. Where an English word is used literally and metaphorically, the Nadsat one is too; for example, “viddy” is used to see with one’s eyes and to understand someone’s point.

The skill of carefully used context makes Russian-based Nadsat much easier to follow than the dialect of Riddley Walker (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...), even though the latter is based on mishearings of English. (To be fair, the whole of Riddley Walker is written in dialect, whereas in Clockwork Orange, it's conventional English with a generous smattering of slang.)

Where the meaning isn't immediately obvious or is merely vague, you go with the flow until it seeps into your consciousness (much as would happen if you were dropped into an environment where you had no language in common with anyone else). It's another way of sucking the reader into Alex's world and his gang.

Nadsat lends a mesmerising and poetic aspect to the text that is in sharp contrast to the revulsion invoked by some of the things Alex does: tolchocking a starry veck doesn’t sound nearly as bad as beating an old man into a pulp - Nadsat acts as a protective veil. In the film, this effect is somewhat diluted because you SEE these acts.

The book was like published in 1962 and Alex frequently uses “like” as an interjection as I did earlier in this sentence – something that has become quite a common feature of youth speak in recent times. What happened in between, I wonder?

Other than that, much of what Alex says has echoes of Shakespeare and the King James Bible: “Come, gloopy bastard thou art. Think thou not on them” and “If fear thou hast in thy heart, o brother, pray banish it forthwith” and “Fear not. He canst taketh care of himself, verily”. There is always the painful contrast of beautiful language describing unpleasant and horrific things.

Similarly, the repetition of a few phrases is almost liturgical. Alex addresses his readers as “oh my brothers”, which is unsettling: if I’m one of his brothers, am I in some way complicit, or at least condoning, what he does? Another recurring phrase is, “What’s it going to be then, eh?” It is the opening phrase of each section and used several times in the first chapter of each section.

MUSIC

Burgess was a composer, as well as a writer, and Alex has a passion for classical music, especially “Ludwig van”. This may be partly a ploy to make the book more ageless than if he loved, for example, Buddy Holly, but more importantly, it’s another way of creating dissonance: a deep appreciation of great art is not “supposed” to coexist with mindless delinquency.

Alex has lots of small speakers around his room, so “I was like netted and meshed in the orchestra”, and the music is his deepest joy: “Oh bliss, bliss and heaven. I lay all nagoy to the ceiling… sloshing the sluice of lovely sounds. Oh it was gorgeousness and gorgeosity made flesh.” The treatment destroys this pleasure- with dramatic results.



Ultimately, I think Alex is sympathetic villain: he has a seductive exuberance and charm and although he does horrific things, when awful things are done to him, sympathy flows.

Yes, there are horrors in this book, but there is beauty too, and so much to think about. The ends of the book justify the means of its execution, even if the same is not true of what happens in the story. Brilliant.


JABBERWOCK in NADSAT

Thanks to Forrest for finding this brilliant hybrid:
https://medium.com/@johnlewislo…/the-...
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Quotes Cecily Liked

Anthony Burgess
“Is it better for a man to have chosen evil than to have good imposed upon him?”
Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange


Comments (showing 26-75)





midnightfaerie the book is excellent!


Cecily Good point, A.

(I'm surprised and flattered to have six likes for a review that does not yet review the book!. Even so, I want to savour, rather than rush it, so a full review will have to wait a little longer.)


Cecily Full review now done. :-)


Eleni Hey Cecily, I too had seen the film before reading the book. My philosophy prof. assigned it along with Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents, and I wrote a paper on the two, especially focusing on the final chapter, which you are right to say was not addressed in the film nor left in US copies of the book. From my analysis, it's not TIME that leads Alex to change but rather having children... the idea is that having children leads to an *investment* in society and its future, to a desire to have laws, police, protection, etc. in order to allow for the safe upbringing of the next generation... it is children, according to the logic of the book, that leads to civilty. Otherwise, we are brutish. Naturally so.

The thing that really intrigued me about the book was something that Alex wonders when undergoing "retraining." He wonder why people ask "why is he bad?" when no one asks the question "why is someone good?" I guess I was attracted to this because I think it is easy to be "bad" - to be selfish, gluttonous, adulterous, indulgent, self-focused, slothful, etc - than to be "good" - I think it requires some conscious effort to be one's best... and I admire that (daily) attempt. I think that is why I am interested in the character of Boromir from Lord of the Rings much more so than Aragon or other of the heroes. I enjoyed reading your review and reflecting back on my own reading experience from many years ago....


message 71: by Cecily (last edited Jul 09, 2012 12:09AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Cecily Well, by time, I meant maturity (and I'll swap the words in my review), and considering the prospect of parenthood is one aspect of that - though you're right, it's a really key one.

Alex's musings about the why stood out for me, too. It's certainly easier to be bad - or at least, not good - but I think he's nearly right when he says "badness is of the self… and that self is made by old Bog or God". What he omits, is that goodness is also part of the self, and the real question is why old Bog lets that be the aspect that tends to be squeezed out.


s.penkevich Great review! I had no idea Burgess was a composer as well, that makes a whole lot of sense though now that you point it out. I may need to reread this one.


Cecily Carson McCullers is another author whose musical background (albeit as a performer rather than composer) suffuses her work - and yet it's easy to miss until you know.


message 68: by Chanel (new)

Chanel Earl Maybe you can help me out. I saw a very disturbing five-minute section of the movie and then swore I would never read the book. I think what I am reading here is that I made a mistake, but, really, how disturbing is it? Because it seems like it may be too much for me, but I just can't tell for sure.


switterbug (Betsey) I also saw the film first, and then read it. I don't remember that last chapter being there (I guess because I read the US edition)--glad it wasn't there, actually.

Super review--you did a terrific, well-considered analysis.


Cecily Chanel, I found the film FAR more disturbing than the book, and very nearly stopped watching more than once. Some horrific acts are portrayed and hard to ignore, whereas in the book, they are somewhat disguised by slang.

I suggest you read the book and then pause before deciding whether to see the film.


message 65: by Chanel (new)

Chanel Earl I think I will probably read the book, but after what the movie put me through already, I won't watch it.


midnightfaerie nice review! especially liked your thoughts on the music...


message 63: by Steve (new)

Steve Brilliant indeed, Cecily. I'm referring to your review, of course, though from the sounds of it, the book deserves like praise.


message 62: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Horrorshow review


Cecily What's the Nadsat for "touché", Will? ;)


Forrest Will wrote: "Horrorshow review"

This is brilliant.

And I agree. A fantastic review. The book is making me boohoohoo and hawhawhaw (uncomfortably). I'm heading toward the end now, but the end of the American version sans the last chapter. I'll digest this first, then get my rookers on an un-American copy to viddy the last chapter.


message 59: by Miriam (new)

Miriam You can read it here (plus some additional commentrary et al) if you don't want to purchase another copy:

http://www.hubertlerch.com/pdf/Burges...


Forrest Miriam wrote: "You can read it here (plus some additional commentrary et al) if you don't want to purchase another copy:

http://www.hubertlerch.com/pdf/Burges..."


Oh, that's handy. Thanks! I was going to borrow the "complete" version from a friend, but now I don't have to!


message 57: by Miriam (new)

Miriam I thought the Bakunin stuff there was kind of interesting, too.


Steve Sckenda I read this in college in a lit to film class. I remember going through a period where I was particularly sensitive to violence and it was hard for me to watch the movie and I always struggle with books that have alternate languages, which others seem to pick up faster than I. I had no idea about Burgess' wife. I believe I need to revisit this novel now that nearly 30 years have passed. It appears universally acclaimed.


Cecily The film is incredibly hard to watch in places, but having started, I'm glad I watched it all, rather than stopping at a grim part.

As for the language, I think you have to try not to focus on it, and just feel instead, which is easier when you are familiar with the basic plot.


message 54: by Jr (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jr Bacdayan Illuminating review, Cecily. I agree that Nadsat really beautified the text and lent it poetic aspects. It won me over.


message 53: by Steve (last edited Jul 04, 2013 08:34PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Steve Sckenda Your excellent review is very helpful to me, Cecily. I read this book and watched the film as part of a Literature to Film class I took at university in 1986. I have yet to revisit either, though I love other Kubrick films. I have a feeling that I would appreciate these works much better in my late 40's than I did in my early 20's. I do remember that I had to avert my eyes to the horrific violence in the film. I wonder if I have grown desensitized.


Forrest "I have a feeling that I would appreciate these works much better in my late 40's than I did in my early 20's."

This may be the most ironic statement I've ever heard in association with reading and appreciating this book. :)


Cecily I came to both in my mid 40s. I'm not sure what I would have made of them in my 20s: I think I would have been more easily shocked and less inclined to finish, so I guess I'm agreeing with your ironic statement, Steve. ;)


Forrest Cecily wrote: "I came to both in my mid 40s. I'm not sure what I would have made of them in my 20s: I think I would have been more easily shocked and less inclined to finish, so I guess I'm agreeing with your iro..."

Oh, I'm in full agreement with the statement! I just found myself laughing out loud when I thought about it vis-a-vis the presence or absence of the last chapter. I mean, what would Alex think about it all?


message 49: by Nicolas (new) - added it

Nicolas Petit The book doesn't even make sense! Like, it's written in words that they haven't even taught us yet. And the plot is so boring. I can't even understand it. This book is stupid and anyone who thinks that it is good is just pretending to be smart! I no it! Hahaha, good books are books that are good to read! Like twilight and Harry potter (just the first book, the others don't make any sense either!). I mean, literature on the whole isn't that great, if an artist can't be famous with music like eminem or nicki minaj or other good artists, then they write books! Haha, what a joke XD


Stephanie "Jedigal" Cecily, you must have made an adjustment to your review that popped it back up on my email feed. Whatever it was, I'm glad. I've read this a few times, with many years in between, and find it deeply moving and thought provoking. Just wanted to say I think your review was fabulous, captures so many main points, and would be a big help to those deciding whether to put this on their TBR lists. Thanks!


Cecily Stephanie "Jedigal" wrote: "Cecily, you must have made an adjustment to your review that popped it back up on my email feed. Whatever it was, I'm glad...."

Yes, I did. I often tweak my reviews and if it's minor I usually untick the option to add to my news feed (or whatever the option is), but sometimes I forget.


Traveller Wow, nice work, Cecily! Your thought-provoking review is making me realize that I need to re-read this.


Apatt I definitely need to read this soonest!


message 44: by Kurt (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kurt I enjoyed the complexity of Alex. It gave me hope for a character I am working on. He is educated, well versed and cultured occasionally given to bouts of profanity yet he is employed in a field that often implements restrained violence.


Cecily That sounds intriguing, Kurt (and thanks, Traveller).


Henry Avila Splendid review,Cecily.I just saw the movie.You inspire me, to read the book too.


message 41: by Lynne (last edited Nov 12, 2013 09:06AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lynne King What an absolutely splendid review Cecily. Bravo!

Like you I saw the film first and then read the book. I actually preferred the film to the book. The film was shocking yes, but I kept on telling myself, this is just fiction; it's not really happening!


message 40: by Cecily (last edited Nov 12, 2013 02:39PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Cecily Henry wrote: "Splendid review,Cecily.I just saw the movie.You inspire me, to read the book too."

Thanks, and if you managed to stomach the film, you'll be fine with the book.

Lynne wrote: "Like you I saw the film first and then read the book. I actually preferred the film to the book..."

I'm not sure which I prefer; I think they each have different merits, and bring different aspects to the fore.


message 39: by Amaan (new) - rated it 1 star

Amaan Ahmad You're stupid.


message 38: by Manny (last edited May 07, 2014 02:40PM) (new)

Manny Amaan, I have been thinking about it carefully, but I'm afraid I do not grasp the full ramifications of your complex argument. On the other hand, I freely admit that I am no Burgess scholar. Maybe it will come to me by and by.


message 37: by Amaan (new) - rated it 1 star

Amaan Ahmad Cecily wrote: "Feel free to criticise the points I make, but resorting to playground-level personal insults is pathetic - and a particularly poor example from a "Goodreads author"!"

I didn't mean to offend but the entire-millennium-saga of your review brought me down to use that term. I don't criticize in the air. I do when I feel that I should. I leave up to you to decide who's on the playground-level when YOU like such work and can spend a century writing all about it. There was nothing great in the book, just nothing. It was not even psychological, leave alone the crappy language. And I stand by what I say.

PS: I dont care about examples. Maybe they are poor for a million people, but maybe for a billion, they are rich-and-good ;)


message 36: by Amaan (new) - rated it 1 star

Amaan Ahmad Manny wrote: "Amaan, I have been thinking about it carefully, but I'm afraid I do not grasp the full ramifications of your complex argument. On the other hand, I freely admit that I am no Burgess scholar. Maybe ..."

Manny, I didn't expect people to grasp that but in simple words, I found the protagonist (Alex) as the cheap version of Holden (Catcher in the Rye; if you have read that book).

Moreover, one doesn't have to be a scholar of any writer (or anyone) to understand the essence. It all depends upon your way of observing things, and how you swiftly fly over it, by rising above all... know what I mean? ;)

People (most of them) often fail to observe and see beyond mundane things, but they follow blindly. Very few use their own experiences by experimenting... They "like" certain things just cuz others did or maybe it's complex (just like the language of this book); maybe they think "wow, it's all cool and unique", but well, it is not! Have you read The Fall by Albert Camus? That's heavy stuff. That's something that will spin your heads... It's deep. I am not here to judge but I am free to express... that's all buddy!


Henry Avila Cecily , I thought your review was superb, as they all are...


Aubrey Manny wrote: "Amaan, I have been thinking about it carefully, but I'm afraid I do not grasp the full ramifications of your complex argument. On the other hand, I freely admit that I am no Burgess scholar. Maybe ..."

When it does, Manny, do me a favor and let me know.


message 33: by Amaan (new) - rated it 1 star

Amaan Ahmad So now we've a tail of ass-lickers? Good! Amuse me!


message 32: by Manny (new)

Manny So you think it's stupid to write such a long piece about a book that's too much like Salinger and not enough like Camus? Well, I guess most people would agree that Camus is a better writer than Burgess, but if you're going to dismiss everyone inferior to Camus as unworthy of attention then you'll find you don't have that much left to read. I doubt whether Camus himself would have approved. He doesn't come across as particularly elitist.


message 31: by Amaan (new) - rated it 1 star

Amaan Ahmad Woah woah woah! You're taking things "literally". I just gave an example. Woah, you gotta be kidding me! Don't tell me you didn't get my point here. Anyway, I'll pass! Wow, bunch of geniuses we've in this generation!


message 30: by Manny (new)

Manny But honestly, Amaan, what is your point? That there are books considerably better than A Clockwork Orange, so it isn't worth writing about it at length? If so, I grant you the premise, but the conclusion still seems pretty dubious to me.


message 29: by Riku (new) - rated it 3 stars

Riku Sayuj Manny wrote: "But honestly, Amaan, what is your point? That there are books considerably better than A Clockwork Orange, so it isn't worth writing about it at length? If so, I grant you the premise, but the conc..."

Hey, I like that leap. We can go back to the 'One book to rule them all' that way.


message 28: by Amaan (new) - rated it 1 star

Amaan Ahmad Well, I was talking about the stupid language and multiple things including the story and concept. I dont usually like everything. So, there's no book that could pull me down by my collar. I just gave an example of "heavy stuff" (One of the examples). Well, I don't wish to stretch this here. If you wanna discuss in detail, I think you should message me.


Brian Riku wrote: " We can go back to the 'One book to rule them all' that way"

My vote is for Prancercise: The Art of Physical and Spiritual Excellence

(Cecily, this is an excellent review of an important book. Well done)


message 26: by Amaan (new) - rated it 1 star

Amaan Ahmad Brian wrote: "Riku wrote: " We can go back to the 'One book to rule them all' that way"

My vote is for Prancercise: The Art of Physical and Spiritual Excellence

(Cecily, this is an excellent re..."


yeah, that's your holy-excellent-book. Bow to it, foolish piece of shit. Why not make it your religious book and make Anthony your GAWD. Aww Maaee Gawwwd. World is full of stupid fucks. I am outta here anyway, suck your own shit!


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