A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

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Upon finishing this book I didn’t know how I felt about it, and still I can’t decide whether it is a great novel or just a peculiar one. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess is a powerful yet disturbing read. It tells the tale off Alex, a teenager who goes on a rampage of violence in a dystopian London. The book poses the question- if free will is such a cornerstone of society, is evil not an acceptable expression of free will? The book has no moral high ground, extreme violence and sexual deviancy are neither condoned or condemned.

The book is broken into three parts. In the first, Alex and his friends rob, kill and rape individuals and take great pleasure in doing so. In the second part, Alex is imprisoned and re-programmed to integrate into society. In the concluding part Alex must assimilate back into normal society. The book is quite like 1984 in a way as the government is very controlling in the book, trying to reprogramme people  into acting in a uniform way. I found this aspect fascinating because in this dytopian world, anarchy and violence are a widespread problem. The government comes up with a pioneering solution to ‘cure’ criminals of their violence. They brainwash individuals to conform to social norms and reject their violent ways. Once this proves successful and society seems to improve and be safer, people act against the government saying that their free will is denied. Alex reverts slowly back to his ‘ultraviolence.’

I found this book a curious read. Firstly the main protagonist uses a completely new language called ‘Nadsat’; a Russian based language that teenagers use in the story. It makes the story quite difficult to read at the start, there is a glossary in the book you must constantly go to in order to understand the book, this made the flow of the book difficult at times. I must say I enjoyed this edge to the book, it made it a very unique read and guessing the sentence meanings proved enjoyable. When reading the book I kept asking myself how a book like this got published because if you read the first thirty pages without and explanation, the pages would seem to be full of nonsense. The book is short so the reader doesn’t have to endure with the language too long if they find it tedious.

Violence and unbridled evil are to the fore in this book. It made it a difficult read at times as the descriptions are very graphic and there is no denouncing of the evil. The delight the protagonist takes in the raping of two little girls is horrific. The author is constantly challenging the reader to query whether free will and individualism are paramount when some individuals are determined to express their  malevolent ways. Burgess is also making a point on humans instinct in my opinion-are some people born evil?

This book is a must read, although I can’t decide whether it is an enjoyable read. There is a voyeurism about the book which make it uncomfortable. The narrator is pure evil with no redeeming human qualities. The scenes are descriptive and unpleasant. Then language is difficult and clunky. However I sat in contemplation after reading the novel questioning how important it was to live in a society of free expression. Free will is the pride of western democracies-but to what extent should free will be allowed?

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3 thoughts on “A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

  1. I completely agree with you. I could never tell whether I actually enjoyed reading this, or whether I was simply baffled the whole way through. If you did like the play on language, there is a contemporary version called A Clockwork Apple from the perspective of a girl from Manchester – it is pretty good for a playful comparison.

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