This is a Review: A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess, or A Flip Bit of Ultra-Violence

February 13, 2015

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess is the basis for my dad's favorite movie. Incidentally, I first watched the movie adaptation with a guy on whom I had a giant crush because I wanted an excuse to sit in the dark with him and awkwardly try to hold his hand. I don't really remember the movie for this reason, but now, having read the book, I'm not sure I could have purposefully picked a less romantic film. Hormones do funny things to ya.

I'm excited to watch the movie again after reading the book. "Excited" might be a funny word, considering how grotesque the subject matter is, but I want to relive how Kubrick brought Burgess's crime-ridden police state to life. The extent of the world-building for a novel just under 180 pages is remarkable and becomes even more so when the protagonist's infamous dialect is taken into account. Despite its brevity, this book took me days to read, mostly because I had to become accustomed to reading sentences filled with completely novel, Russian-derived words. Here's an example, from the book's opening scene in a milk bar:
"They had no licence for selling liquor, but there was no law yet against prodding some of the new veshches which they used to put into the old moloko, so you could peet it with vellocet or synthemesc or drencrom or one or two other veshches which would give you a nice quiet horrorshow fifteen minutes admiring Bog And All His Holy Angels And Saints in your left shoe with lights bursting all over your mozg." (pg. 1)
Yep, that's page one. There's a handy little glossary in the back of my book, with which I became very intimate in my reading.

Annoying to some, perhaps, but to me this is where the novel's strength shines through most. For most of the story, our fifteen-year-old protagonist (Alex) is doing atrocious things: beating up old men, raping young girls and knocking over small businesses, to name a few. Yet his near-incomprehensible Nadsat works wonders to remove him (and, thus, readers) from his brutality. Even once I became fluent in Nadsat, I couldn't get past Alex's flippant, juvenile speech patterns for long enough to truly be horrified by his actions. I'd compare it to watching a crime happen through frosted glass—uncomfortable, sure, but some of the bite gets smoothed away.

It's this somewhat muted response that ultimately allows us as readers to sympathize with Alex when he first starts being "treated" for his violent tendencies. I don't want to spoil this bit for you, as it's some real horrorshow social commentary, so all I can do is urge you to pick it up, if you haven't already.

I read A Clockwork Orange for both the 2015 TBR Pile Challenge and my Classics Club challenge.

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