CW: Rape, Violence, Prison Torture
Title: A Clockwork Orange
Author: Anthony Burgess
Genre: Dystopia, Coming-Of-Age, Horror, Political Satire
Format: Paperback, 141 pages
My Rating: 4/5 stars
Summary (back of book):
In this nightmare vision of youth in revolt, fifteen-year-old Alex and his friends set out on a diabolical orgy of robbery, rape, torture and murder. Alex is jailed for his teenage delinquency and the State tries to reform him – but at what cost?
Social prophecy? Black comedy? A study of free will? A Clockwork Orange is all of these. It is also a dazzling experiment in language, as Burgess creates ‘nadsat’, the teenage slang of a not-too-distant future.
Straight off the bat: I’m so glad I waited til I’m the age I am to read this.
A Clockwork Orange has been on my tbr since I was about fifteen, and honestly…I would never give this to a fifteen year old to read. Given that I’m pretty liberal with reading, and am a firm believer that you shouldn’t censor what kids want to read, that should say a fair amount about the contents of the book.
I didn’t quite believe how accurate the description on the back of the book is (“a diabolical orgy of robbery, rape, torture and murder”) but um…yeah no. That about sums up the whole thing. It’s incredibly graphic, which wouldn’t be quite so bad if the protagonist wasn’t so on-board with everything.
Like, the gang violence I can almost understand because yanno, pack mentality and everything. But the scenes with Alex, on his own, committing such atrocious acts? Nope. Nopeity Nope. Let’s hop aboard the NOPE train to Fuck-That-Ville.
We’re essentially stuck in his head for the whole novel, which makes it very difficult to put space between him and ourselves whilst reading. Add the sympathy he eventually garners after everything he suffers through the hands of the prison, and everything that happens after, it all makes for a thoroughly uncomfortable reading experience.
Even if I hate him whole-heartedly for the first half of the book, it’s difficult not to cut him some slack in the second half. That, more than anything, I think, is what makes him such an interesting character. He’s definitely three-dimensional, and the last chapter actually shows him starting to grow up, which yanno, leads to us cutting a bit more slack because “Oh, he was a stupid teenager, look he’s getting better-” and before you know it, we’re *this* close to letting him off the hook.
As I said, it’s an uncomfortable situation.
Something that does put a little distance between us and the narrative however, is the dialect in which Alex narrates – “nadsat”. Burgess has somehow created a whole new language (mostly derived from Russian and German, from what I’ve read elsewhere) that is difficult to get into at first. Though, that could be because I’ve never studied Russian or German.
In case you were curious, this is the first line:
“There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, Dim being really Dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard through dry.”
Yeahhhh. It’s creative, and after a few pages you start to get the swing of it, so the book isn’t totally unreadable, but still. It’s a challenge.
What’s more challenging however, are the themes that the book contains. Honestly, it’s an English Lit student’s dream come true. The main theme appears to be “free will” – the title itself, A Clockwork Orange, clues us into this. Burgess has written elsewhere that a Clockwork Orange
“has the appearance of an organism lovely with colour and juice but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil or (since this is increasingly replacing both) the Almighty State.”
Hot damn. Obviously I don’t want to spoil the book in a review, so I won’t give the details on how this fits into the plot, but can we just appreciate that piece of imagery? Damn.
This leads into the dystopian aspects of the novel – namely how teenagers essentially run the city at night, and how police violence has hit an all-time high. It’s not dystopian in the sense of The Hunger Games, where the world has changed completely. No, this is waay closer to home. It’s something that could conceivably happen in the next few years, which is horrifying to think of.
Honestly, I think I’m gonna end up on SparkNotes just looking at all the analysis there is of this book because it’s SO INTERESTING? I can’t fit it all into one single blog post, so I think I’m going to let this review end here.
I’d 100% recommend this book if you want a piece that’ll make you think. If you want a book to challenge yourself with. It’s witty, thought-provoking, and profoundly disturbing all at once.
Lots of love,