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A Clockwork Orange Paperback – April 17, 1995
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*Starred Review* It may be a sign of a great work that it can be misinterpreted by detractors and proponents alike. Contemporary readers who saw Burgess’ 1962 dystopian novel as a celebration of youth violence were as far off base as the teens since then who have thrilled to the transgressive violence it—or, at least, Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation—depicts. But paradox is at the heart of this book, as this newly restored, fiftieth-anniversary edition makes more clear than ever. Narrated by Alex, a teenage dandy who revels in language (he speaks a slang called Nadsat), music (especially Bach and Beethoven), and violence, especially violence. When imprisoned for murder, he is offered a chance at reform and leaps at it—but the reform turns out to be brainwashing, an aversion therapy that, alas, leaves him able to enjoy neither beatings nor Beethoven. Upon his release he becomes first a victim of his victims, then a cause célèbre of antigovernment activists before . . . well, publishers offered different endings to British and American audiences, as readers will discover here. What makes A Clockwork Orange so challenging, besides the language (“He looked a malenky bit poogly when he viddied the four of us”), is Burgess’ willingness to use an unsympathetic protagonist to make his point, which is essentially that it may be better to choose evil than to be forced to be good. (For, as it is put by two different characters: “When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man.”) Readers can revisit or discover a classic that, while drawing from Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock, has in turn influenced authors from Irvine Welsh to Suzanne Collins. Extras include a thoughtful introduction by editor Andrew Biswell, reproductions of manuscript pages annotated by Burgess, and a previously unpublished chapter of a book that was to have been called The Clockwork Condition, in which Burgess intended to set the record straight about his intentions now that Kubrick’s film adaptation had made him famous. Readers will learn much, including the meaning behind the book’s title. All in all, a fitting publication of a book that remains just as shocking and thought provoking as ever. --Keir Graff --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“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.” (Time)
“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)
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Top Customer Reviews
The story takes place is run-down version of London, following Alex, a gang leader whose two loves are gratuitous violence and classical music. After a robbery gone bad, Alex ends us a test subject for a new treatment to turn bad men good.
Burgess has developed a style on his own to write this book. The novel uses a massive amount of future slang that is at first super confusing. But after a few paragraphs, you'll be able to figure out what everything means. It certainly makes for an interesting experience.
The introduction for this edition is also notable, in that it directly calls attention to the novels main flaw. Like I said, Burgess himself doesn't like this book that much, citing the fact that he felt his themes of free will and morality were to heavy handed. And they are. But I feel like the book is worth reading in spite of that.
What makes this book difficult is not so much the mindless violence that the narrator engages in or the nadsat language that he uses, but moreover the directness with which Burgess wrote the story. He didn't soften it by loading it up with metaphors, he went straight for the jugular.
The satire in this book clearly attacks at least three aspects of society, each given their own section in the book:
Part one takes a shot at the choice, notions of "free will" are closely examined in this book, of Alex and his cohorts to freely engage in hooliganism and mindless crime for no other reason than that they can. Alex revels in it, glorifies himself through it and makes no apologies. Alex is not written to be likable, he is neither protagonist nor anti-hero; he is simply Alex who exercised his free will contrary to how we would have liked to see him do it.
Part two attacks corrupt, hypocritical governments and other power structures and what they do with their powers when left unchecked. After Alex is simply thrown in prison for his crimes, he hears of a new experimental method of "reforming" criminals in such a way that they will not ever re-offend. Officially, this is done to ease the burden on the prison system. Realistically, it's a disturbing and invasive behavioral control mechanism that goes much deeper than simply eradicating Alex's criminal tendencies; it stifles his ability to take much joy in life at all, criminal or benign. The classical music he was passionate about before the "treatment" is unbearable to him after. What they do to "reform" Alex is pure abuse of power and no less disturbing than anything Alex himself ever did.
Part three takes a run at anti-government groups and how they use, and often abuse, people. After his release from prison. Alex eventually and unwittingly finds his way into the company of a man who he horribly victimized in the first part and two other men representing and anti-government organization. Initially, they see Alex as a potential "poster boy" for their cause and intend to use him as evidence to the public of how evil the government is; however, a combination of Alex's former victim eventually recognizing Alex for who he really is and Alex later trying to take his own life sees the anti-government movement abandon Alex almost as quickly as they rallied around him. Their only interest in him was as a tool for their cause.
This book challenges the reader because it gives no true protagonist to bond to, in fact it strives to keep a distance between the reader and the narrator and the nadsat slang is a big part of how that's done. The slang is not actually that difficult to figure out as there is enough standard English to give context. The key is that nadsat works exactly as slang should, that is as an exclusionary language; every generation creates its own slang to confuse older, more authoritative generations and to keep them somewhat in the dark.
Burgess places the reader in the position of being a bystander to the goings on in the story; close enough that we can see, but still outside of it and not directly involved. Disturbingly like watching a television newscast these days.
misspent youth, government corruption and anti-government groups of often dubious motives existed at the time Burgess wrote this book and they still exist today; they are timeless things. As such, this book is anything but dystopian; it's uncomfortably contemporary.
As for the film adaptation; that was certainly not one of Stanley kubrick's finest hours. It only very loosely follows the story, cuts out a lot of critical events and adjusts certain characters' physical qualities to the point where a lot of the shock value is lost.
Read this edition of the book for best effect. The notes, essays and interviews at the end are very enlightening and add greatly to the overall reading experience.
A major aspect of this book was Burgess’s choice to write from Alex’s perspective. Instead of a third-person viewpoint, the author puts us in the criminal’s shoes and lets the reader understand the crime, rape, and thievery from the one leading these delinquencies. This point of view gives the reader a more personal connection to Alex both when he is committing crimes as well as when he is tortured by the treatment. The author also gives us access to Alex’s motives and feelings before, during, and after his jail time and subsequent treatment.
One of the unique characteristics of this book is the constant inclusion of slang – a foreign language spoken by Alex and his gang. Since the book is written from Alex’s perspective, the reader can see how he and his posse communicate in their own semi-foreign language, symbolizing the teenagers’ disconnect from the rest of society. Words such as “droogs,” “moloko,” “horrorshow,” and “viddy” are common language in the book, as this is how Alex and his gang communicate during their criminal actions. Even after his treatment, Alex continues to use this same language, symbolizing the limits of the attempted reformation, as not all of Alex’s past identity could be eradicated.
The controversy regarding this book comes in the conclusion, in which two different versions were published. While the American publishing ended with the twentieth chapter, Burgess intended there to be a twenty-first chapter, as published in the United Kingdom. This controversial twenty-first chapter tells of how Alex is beginning to grow tired of violence, especially when he runs into his old droog Pete who is at this point a married working man. Alex begins to think of a normal life with children of his own, suggesting the possibility of an end to his criminal ways. It is no coincidence that this is Chapter 21, with 21 being an age usually associated with the coming of age and becoming an adult. This final chapter brings into question whether the reforming treatment has a remaining impact on Alex, or if he is beginning to mature, and this character development was inevitable with or without the treatment.
Overall, Anthony Burgess crafted an entertaining, thought-provoking novel in A Clockwork Orange. This book was a joy for our group to read, and its literary merit provides an underlying meaning to the engaging storyline.