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A Clockwork Orange Paperback – April 17, 1995
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“A brilliant novel... a savage satire on the distortions of the single and collective minds.”
- New York Times
“Looks like a nasty little shocker, but is really that rare thing in English letters: a philosophical novel.”
“I do not know of any other writer who has done as much with language as Mr. Burgess has done here ― the fact that this is also a very funny book may pass unnoticed.”
- William S. Burroughs
“A terrifying and marvelous book.”
- Roald Dahl
About the Author
Anthony Burgess (1917–1993) is the author of many works, including A Clockwork Orange, The Wanting Seed, Nothing Like the Sun, Honey for the Bears, The Long Day Wanes, The Doctor Is Sick, and ReJoyce.
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Burgess wrote this story as a narrative with 15-year old Alex speaking, using language made up by the hoodlum teenagers in the story. I felt this 'language' (actually just silly word replacement) was overdone and distracted from the story, even making parts confusing. He could have done with less of that. Also, there is too much use of the word like throughout the story. I know it is common in speech to like throw that in occasionally, especially in youths, but Burgess seemed to add the word in the wrong places sometimes, making his sentences like awkward. It was as if an old man was trying to sound cool by using the language of the younger generation, but wasn't quite getting it right. I was like, you know, this is wrong. Maybe Burgess' word count was too low, so he just added the word like to the story enough to get the count up. I still enjoyed the book. To me, this was a very interesting story that I took as a predecessor to the dystopian stories so common today.
Spoiler alert. In case there is anyone left who has not heard the whole story, don't read the next paragraph.
I think the story is brilliant. It is the story of a teenage, ultra violent, hoodlum being caught and imprisoned for murder and then rehabilitated using a brainwashing technique that removes his choice to do evil. In the end, he is returned to his old self. Was this the result of his injury from jumping out of a window onto the street or did the government take advantage of his unconscious state to undue the damage they did to his brain as a political maneuver? Regardless of how it happened, the hoodlum Alex is back. An extra chapter has him outgrowing his violent youth, ready to find a wife and raise a son. I'm not sure I think that last chapter was necessary, and it actually is not included in all versions of the book. The version I read was the restored text version.
Anthony Burgess grew to hate this book, not because of its contents , but because it so overshadowed all of his other works. Burgess was a man of divers interests which he wrote about in both fiction and nonfiction. He was a superb writer. Words, for him, seemed to come easily.
I must say, Burgess deserves mention as a sociological Jules Verne, a man who made stark predictions of future turns that have panned out.
In "A Clockwork Orange," which he wrote fairly early in life, he created a deeply disturbing world in which young teens run free to commit violent crimes of all kinds at night. The opening pages of this book are filled with gang fights, muggings, rape, beatings, burglary, and car theft. Alex, the protagonist of this first-person narration, never shows even a smidgen of remorse about the crimes he has committed. He simply relates his tale, including a scene in which he rapes two girls he estimates to be pre-teen. The only violence the sociopathic Alex regards as problematic is violence against him.
In the story, he is arrested and eventually introduced into an experimental new program that uses drugs and hypnotics to make people incapable of violence. Note, this does not mean he sees it as wrong, just that he cannot become violent without being sickened. He is a cat without claws or teeth that is placed back in a world filled with enemies (many of whom are the good people he tortured) and the results are as cruel as he is.
The story is simple, the telling is sublime. Alex speaks "Nadsat," a slang language of Burgess's creation that mixes Russian words, rhyme, and English slang. A good portion of the novel is told in these words, so the reader needs to pay careful attention in the beginning, learn a new vocabulary, and apply that vocabulary to every paragraph.
In my case, I was not a reader but a listener, and that enhanced the experience greatly. It enhanced the experience largely do to the amazing talents of Tom Hollander, a gifted character actor who injects so much into this book. You may know Hollander. He played the parson Mr. Collins in "Pride and Prejudice" and the officious Cutler Beckett in the second and third "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies. He generally plays the short guy with the big ego. If I had his reading ability, I'd have an ego the size of a mountain. Hollander adds a brash, boastful, cockney attitude to Alex. His range of voices and characters seems endless as he brings old men, politicians, prisoners. thugs, policemen, prison guards, priests, and psychologists to life.
There have been a few perfect pairings of reader and text. If you try this audio book and agree with me, you might also want to listen to "The Anansi Boys" as read by Lenny Henry; "Memoirs of a Geisha," read by Bernadette Dunne--there are other productions of "Memoirs" with readers. I can neither recommend nor criticize other versions as I have not heard--I highly recommend holding out for Ms. Dunne's reading; and "The Green Mile" and "Freaky Deaky" read by Frank Muller.
The book comes with an introduction from Anthony Burgess which served as a bit of a buzz kill since he admits to disliking the story, and goes on to complain about the American version of his book omitting the last chapter to keep things negative. After finishing the book there was a counter point added from the publisher saying that there may have been a misunderstanding (very odd of them to add that)when the final chapter was originally omitted. Still the last chapter will surprise those of you that have only seen the movie. Many hate the last chapter but I enjoyed it.