A Clockwork Orange
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438 of 460 people found the following review helpful
on November 27, 2001
After reading the many reviews that have been posted here, I'm afraid mine will not be as eloquent, nor will it be a long and detailed description of the book. However, I might be able to express the importance of this book, and perhaps you'll even want to read it when you've finished my review.
I may have started out reading A Clockwork Orange because my friend told me how good it was. And then I continued to read it because it was engaging, disturbing, and thought provoking. Even though the book was written over 30 years ago, I believe it is still as powerful today as it was back then; perhaps even more so. Alex, the protagonist, is almost innocently committing violent crimes with his friends; for he isn't -trying- to be bad, he just is. He likes violence, and that's the way he is.
When Alex's friends gang up on him and leave him to be arrested by the police, Alex is sentenced to 14 years in prison. But then the opportunity to change presents itself to Alex, and he can't help but take the offer. Without ruining the story as so many previous reviewers have already done, I can say that when everything is said and done, important questions arise: is being good truly good if it is not by choice? Is it good to be bad, if that is what one chooses?
The book first came out in the 60s, and the American version lacked the last and 21st chapter from the original story. When it was republished, the book had the 21st chapter. Depending on which copy you read, with the last chapter or without it, the book will have an entirely different feel to it. The old copy represents the horrible realization that bad minds are always bad; the newer version leaves the reader with hope. Hope for Alex, and hope for oneself. Change is possible, the book says, no matter what sort of person you are.
A Clockwork Orange is truly a great work, one that will appeal to people for different reasons; and affect them in completely different ways. But it will affect them.
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35 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on May 27, 2004
A Clockwork Orange is the story of good and evil and the value of choice. The main character, is a 15 year old lad named Alex whose life consists of crime, cruelty, and recklessness. After being betrayed by an accomplice, he is sentenced to prison where he volunteers for a program that corrects the seemingly uncorrectable. Only then does he being to suffer the consequences of his crash and burn lifestyle.
A Clockwork Orange is what I believe to be a fabulous novel. It may confuse a reader at the start because of the language, but its not that hard to understand the slang dialect if you have a firm grasp on English and are a few pages into the book. Also, one must be patient when reading it because the main ideas aren't revealed until later in the novel. There is a lot of building up the characters before hand, which is valuable information but may bore those who are already have a distaste for the book's violent nature. I also highly recommend that you read the British version because the last or 21st chapter is quite important.
Anyways, the book is more oriented those who can see past the gore and sex and can grasp the main ideas the author is trying to convey through a clockwork orange.
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47 of 55 people found the following review helpful
on March 30, 2001
Fans of Ayn Rand's ATLAS SHRUGGED will no doubt disagree with me here, but _A Clockwork Orange_ may be the most remarkable man-against-the-State story ever published. Anthony Burgess's approach is in one significant sense the opposite of Rand's: where she tried to project a hero (and in my opinion failed; John Galt seems to be little more than a one-dimensional abstraction), Burgess projects a thoroughly depraved teenager and forces us to root for him anyway. It's not every author who can make you watch a bunch of gratuitous sex'n'violence and _then_ conclude that even great moral depravity trumps behavioristic psychology and mechanistic determinism.

What "protagonist" (or Your Humble Narrator, at any rate) Alex does in the first half of the novel will make you ill. But what the State does to him to "cure" him makes his nadsat gang violence seem almost . . . well, "innocent" isn't quite the right word, but the fact that I'm even thinking of that word is an indication of Anthony Burgess's power.

For Burgess, the important thing is moral choice, and the possibility of choice entails the possibility of evil. Once Alex has been "reformed" by the very latest techniques of behavioristic science, it's no longer even _possible_ for him to be moral -- and that's somehow more horrible than any of his own horrible acts.

But Burgess stops short of making volition an object of idolatry. In the first place, he doesn't make any argument that Alex's actions were somehow "good" merely because he had _chosen_ them; quite the contrary. In the second place, even though Alex bears the full blame for all his depraved actions, there are hints scattered throughout the book that if he weren't living in a "socialist paradise," he just wouldn't have been acting this way in the first place. (For example, both his parents are required by law to work full-time. They also seem curiously unwilling to discipline their son, or even inquire what it is he does when he goes out at night.)

I read this book twenty years ago in an edition that had something this one lacked: a glossary. I thought I was going to miss it, but I didn't; Burgess is a fine writer and anticipates his readers' needs very nicely. If the meaning of one of his Russian-import slang terms isn't obvious from context, he works in a definition. (And there are a few glossaries available online anyway.)

The earlier edition also lacked something this one has: a twenty-first chapter. I hadn't read this before -- it was left out of the American edition of the book and therefore out of Stanley Kubrick's film adaptation as well -- but to my mind it makes a better ending for the book.

Sure, as Burgess himself admits, it's a little crude; we never actually _see_ Alex develop into an adult, we just suddenly learn at the end that he's growing up and becoming ashamed of his past actions. But the novel wouldn't be complete if Burgess hadn't introduced that final bit of irony: after all the State's torturous efforts to "reform" the poor misguided youth, in the end he just sort of, well, gets over it.

Other readers may have different opinions -- and according to Burgess's delightfully snarky introduction of 1986, that's okay with him. And he almost sounds resigned to the fact (for it probably is a fact) that of all his thirty-two novels -- not to mention his nonfiction (including a fine exposition of James Joyce released in the UK as _Here Comes Everybody_ and in the US as _Re Joyce_) and a whole bunch of music -- in the end it's this book for which he will be universally remembered.

He may be right that it isn't his best work, and he's undoubtedly right that it's a bit preachy. But it's undoubtedly the book for which I myself will remember him. And I'll make no appy polly loggies for that, O my brothers, for it's a horrorshow book with the impact of an oozy across the glazzies, and no mistake. This malchick and his droogs deserve a place in literary history.
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42 of 49 people found the following review helpful
on July 25, 2002
I have tried to write a review of this book at least ten times, but I can never seem to find the right way to describe it. This is mainly because I consider A Clockwork Orange to be one of the most painful, brilliant, and disturbing stories ever to be put down on paper. The invented slang used by Alex and his "droogs" is one of the best parts of the book. You'd think that the slang would make it confusing to read, but it doesn't! In fact, it's strangely catchy. They call it "nadsat" and it's a kind of Russified English. And I don't even speak Russian. (Burgess later invented "caveman speak" in Quest For Fire.)
The basic plot follows Alex and his gang of sadistic young punks as they run amok, beating, raping, and murdering with gleeful abandon in the London of the near-future. They then retire to a bar to drink drug-enhanced milk and plot their next crime. Eventually, Alex gets caught and is subjected to the will of the State. He's forcibly deprogrammed with the "Ludovico Technique" in which he's strapped to a chair, his eyelids held open by metal clamps, and forced to watch a long movie of non-stop murder, rape, torture, and other horrible violence until he gets physically ill at the mere thought of such acts. Then he is thrown back on the streets, a declawed kitten at the mercy of his former victims. The American re-edition is published with the controversial twenty-first chapter not included in Kubrick's film, plus an introduction by the author called "A Clockwork Orange Resucked."
Unfortunately, it's a sad reflection on society in that Alex was shunned because of his violence, and when caught, had violence inflicted on him in order to make him stop. This extremely graphic novel received mixed reactions, either hailed as genius or dismissed as violent pornography. I would recommend the movie as well; it's visually inventive and a must-see from one of the world's greatest directors.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on November 26, 2003
+++++

This book (first published in 1962) has three parts. The first part introduces us to the teenager named Alex who is the narrator of the book. He is the leader of a small gang in futuristic England until he gets caught for doing the ultimate crime. The second part has Alex or rather prisoner 6655321 in jail. In prison, he undergoes an experimental procedure that cures him of his violence. Part three details what happens to the cured Alex after he gets out of prison.

A streak of grotesque surrealism runs through this book especially in part one. For example, as the gang of hoodlums drive to their "surprise visit," they run over a big, snarling toothy thing that screams and squelches, and as they drive back they run over "odd squealing things" all the way.

The most fascinating aspect of this book is the invented vocabulary or futuristic, teenage slang -- it has the effect of putting you in another world. Alex thinks and talks in this slang. A doctor in this book explains it: "Odd bits of old rhyming slang. A bit of gypsy talk, too. But most of the roots are Slav [or Russian] propaganda."

Alex as he narrates translates some of this slang. I found that it is best to compile a running glossary so as to make later reading easier.

At first the vocabulary seems incomprehensible: "you could peet it with vellocet or synthemesc or drencrom or one or two other veshches." Then, the reader discovers that some of the meaning is clear from context: "to tolchock some old veck in an alley and viddy him swim in his own blood" or "I kicked the chelloveck in the yarbles and he began to platch." The meaning of other words become known after a second context. For example, when Alex kicks someone in the "gulliver" it might be any part of the body, but when a glass of beer is served with a gulliver, we then can deduce this word's meaning. The meaning of other words becomes obvious as the reader progresses through the book.

Another fascinating thing about this book is its contrasts. For example, violence is connected with symphonic music especially the music of "Ludwig van."

This book is packed with various themes. The prison charlie or chaplain exposes the central theme of the book in a series of questions to prestoopnick or prisoner 6655321: "What does God want? Does God want goodness or choice of goodness? Is the man who chooses the bad perhaps in some way better than the man who has the good imposed on him?"

Stanley Kubrick's movie of the same name catches the book's essence. However, the movie does not entirely get across the futuristic, nadsat or teenage slang so evident in the book.

In conclusion, this is a new kind of book. I can't say I've read another like it. But I can say that this book contains *** a zammechat razkazz that works for me!! (For a translation, refer to the title of this review.)

+++++
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on March 2, 2011
This novel is great in that it portrays a classic anti-hero within a futuristic, bizarre world. The society that Burgess creates is both intriguing and sadly believable, and there are many questions that the reader is left asking about agency, violence, and humanity in general. Alex, the main character, goes through a maturing process, which makes this a good example of a coming-of-age novel. For that reason, I would recommend this book to both teenagers and adults that are interested in the sci-fi genre and want to have a brain-twisting, creepy experience. However, Alex speaks in a language called Nadsat, which is a mix of English and Slavic-based slang. It can be difficult to understand, especially at first, so I would not recommend it to people who are not willing to put a little effort into the novel to get something out of it. It is also extremely violent, so the faint of heart might want to find another book with butterflies, rainbows, and the like.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on July 25, 2000
A Clockwork Orange is by far the best book i have ever read. even if you have seen the movie, read the book. It takes place in london in the not-so-distant future. The main character, Alex, is the leader of a gang of four teenagers, who run a muck, breaking into people's houses, beating people up, etc. alex runs into trouble, and is thrown in jail, where the government gives him horrific punishment.... anyway, enough of the plot. alex and his "droogs" speak a kind of Russified english, which they called "Nadsat" (russian for "teen"). The novel has no glossary, although nadsat is laced thickly throughout the entire book. this was not a problem for me because i speak russian, but i imagine that this book would be a very difficult read for someone who does not. but hey, if you cant, you can download a "nadsat translator". overall, a clockwork orange is a visciously bizzarre, violent, hilarious, intruiging book that asks the reader "is a person who does not have the option of evil really good?". a clockwork orange is the best book ever written because it breaks free of ordinary book structure. the main character is not very heroic, and is actually very dispicable. the book has very unexpected twists in it, so reader never knows what to expect. anyway, read it- it is not something you will soon forget.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on July 30, 2010
When it comes to so-called classic literature, sometimes it's difficult to differentiate the truly ingenious material from the weirdly pretentious. In the case of Clockwork Orange, I think Anthony Burgess is dancing very merrily along the thin line that separates the two.

I won't pad my review by rehashing the plot as so many others have already, but I do want to address a couple things. First, there's the frequent use of certain Russian slang/gibberish which the reader is assaulted with from the very first page. To some it may seem contrived and jarring, but if you plod through it long enough it becomes second nature with the help of context clues and it really does give the main character of Alex a distinct voice as Your Humble Narrator. I can be very impatient, so if I can get through it, anyone else should be able to. However, I don't feel there was much else to go on in terms of why I should care about or feel for Alex, and this is where I feel as if having seen the movie first works as an advantage. Clockwork Orange strikes me as a very visual story, and the Stanley Kubrick film adaptation really went over the top with its disturbing sexual imagery and bizarre costumes and set pieces. Love it or hate it, it sticks in your mind. In the novel, which I realize came first of course, Alex comes off an "everyman" and is quite forgettable once you close the cover, and is overall quite tame in terms of sex and violence.

Thematically speaking I also felt the film version had the bigger impact. Maybe the whole idea of good and bad and the choices each one presents is better illustrated visually than on paper, I don't know, but perhaps Burgess tried to be a little too deep and profound which caused the whole thing to build up only to fall flat at the end, whereas the film presented it in a wink-wink, nudge-nudge kind of way all along. I will give props to the book for presenting a number of memorable and thought provoking quotes on the subject though, which I have since passed on to my friends for discussion.

In itself, Clockwork Orange was not a bad read. It's a unique and imaginative social commentary and I can certainly see why it's heralded as a classic. But because of its inflated reputation and the fact I had the film so ingrained into my brain going into it, I suppose I couldn't help but be slightly underwhelmed. Still, I'm reluctant to come right out and say the movie is better at the risk of sounding like I don't "get it" because I most certainly do. I just happen to think the visuals of the movie enhance the characters and theme. In fact I'd probably recommend checking out both in order to get the fullest understanding of what's going on, because one helps to fill in the gaps of the other.
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42 of 52 people found the following review helpful
on August 23, 2005
I knew about this book way before I actually went out and bought it (of course there was a gap between buying it and reading it, but that's another, utterly irrelevant, story), being aware of most of the basic facts about it, the general plot and so forth. I've never seen the movie, although I've heard it's rather ultraviolent, which seems to be appropriate. The thing that both attracted me and made me shy away from the novel though was the prose itself . . . for those who aren't already aware, Burgess sprinkles the novel liberally with a made-up slang that the main character uses. I had seen a few pages at my local library and thought, "Crap, this isn't going to make any sense to me at all". But it does, somehow. There might actually be some editions floating out there with a glossary of sorts, giving you a clue as to what the more obscure slang terms might mean but you don't really need it. Reading the novel, it's very easy to figure out what's going on and the text isn't impenetrable at all. Most of the slang you can figure out via context and for the linguistically agile among you, I believe most of it is derived from Russian, mixed with some Britishisms and other stuff that I'm not smart enough to figure out. The end result of this is that it gives the book a weird sort of driving rhythm, half the words seem made up but it flows anyway and I never had any trouble figuring out what was going on at any given point (not that you don't have to read carefully, but it's not Finnegans Wake or anything). So that's that. But what is it about? The story is narrated by Alex, a teenager who inhabits a future Britain that has fallen into dingy decay, gangs walk the streets at night committing all sorts of violent acts, there hardly seems to be any hope and the government has become rather oppressive. But Alex doesn't care because he's quite enjoying himself. The book is a lot funnier than you might think and the violence (it's ample but not graphic) is almost slapstick. Alex and his pals spend the first third of the book (it details a typical night) basically walking around and beating up everyone they see, the narration makes it clear that Alex is intelligent enough to know what he's doing but he likes it and would like to keep doing it. One incident lands him in prison and while there and serving a long sentence, he's given a chance to get out early. All he has to do is submit to a new procedure that will make him nonviolent and he can go back into society. That procedure and its consequences drive the rest of the book, showing how things can seem to get better while actually getting worse. It's a testament to Burgess' skill that he manages to make Alex a nearly sympathetic character, to the point where I started to feel bad for him, especially in the scenes where he's denied the joy of his beloved classical music. The moral dilemma he poses is an interesting one, questioning whether society really becomes better if you take away free will. The edition I have (and most recent editions, I'm sure) restores the previously "lost" final chapter . . . it was cut from the American edition for various reasons and it and the actual final chapter end the story on two utterly different notes. I prefer the real final chapter, I think it closes the book on a reflective note, rather than the implied middle finger of the prior chapter, and I think it's more faithful to Burgess' intent. But your milage may vary and if you really disagree just stop before you get to the end. I don't know if it's the best Burgess book but it's certainly the most famous and quite the reading experience for those who prefer more experimental prose styles. It was published forty years ago but still feels contemporary and it certainly worth reading even today, in a future that Burgress might not have imagined but may be closer to his than we suspect.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on April 15, 2007
Unlike most dystopian novels, which tend to focus on what may happen to government in the future, "A Clockwork Orange" focuses on the nature of the individual in the future. Our protagonist is Alex, only 15 years old but already a habitual criminal, roving the streets with his band of friends, taking advantage of every opportunity to wreak havoc on the world around him. The boys have no qualms about attacking the helpless. In fact, the more helpless the victim, it seems, the more pleasure the boys take in the act. The most interesting and disturbing aspect is that the boys manage to maintain a strange sort of innocence even as they commit the most heinous and violent crimes. They aren't doing any of this out of malice toward their targets; in fact, it seems to matter very little who they pick as a victim. They are creating mayhem just because it's fun for them.

Everything changes, however, when one particular break-in goes horribly awry and Alex finds himself sentenced to 14 years in prison for murder. There, though he manages to create an illusion of good behavior, we see that the experience has no real impression on his sense of morality. Then, after two years, he is chosen for a new, experimental rehabilitation program, designed to rid him of any desire to indulge in, or even contemplate, any acts of violence. As we see, however, this "treatment" also leaves him without any choice in the matter of being good or not. He HAS to be good because he is programmed to be. This, of course, raises the question central to the book: Does good behavior actually mean you are a good person if you have no freedom of choice?

The book can be a little difficult to get in to at first, predominantly because of Burgess's unique style. The story is narrated by Alex and thus, is written in the complex slang language, invented by Burgess for this book, that the youth of this society engage in. For example, a sentence taken from the opening chapter: "He looked a malenky bit poogly when he viddied the four of us like that" (pg. 5). There is no glossary, but if you stick with it, you will start to develop a feel for what most of the words mean after a couple chapters. However, if you find yourself having difficulty, a nice, comprehensive lexicon can be found on Wikipedia if you search for "English to Nadsat" (due to review guidelines I am not allowed to include a direct link). Unfortunately, it is alphabetized by the English equivalents, not by the slang terms, so looking up a word can be a little difficult.

One final note of interest: The original British publication of "A Clockwork Orange" had 21 chapters, as does the current American edition. However, when the book was first published in the United States, the last chapter was dropped. As Burgess explains in his introduction to the restored version, publishers considered this 21st chapter a sellout. Whether it is or isn't is up to you to decide, but I can tell you that the presence or absence of the last chapter makes a huge difference in the overall feel and message of the book. Without the final part of the story in place, the book offers a bleak message, implying that human nature cannot really change. On the other hand, reading the book with the final chapter in place gives us a little more hope. Beyond that, Burgess tells us in his introduction, interpretation is up to you.

This review refers to the restored, 1986 Norton & Company edition.
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