Tuesday, January 26, 2010

REVIEW: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Apparently I live under a rock. When I told a few people that I was reading A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess they screetched "You've never SEEN the movie?!? Um no, nor did I have any idea what it was about. I am now of the opinion that if the movie follows the book at all, neither would be for the faint of heart.

Alex, a 15 year old thug, is our narrator for this novel. Alex and his friends or "droogs" like to pick fights, assault people (physically and sexually), and generally terrorize at will. In the first 30 pages of the book we are treated to the savage beating of an old man coming out of a library and the assault of a woman while her husband helplessly watches after Alex and his friends invade thier home.

Finally Alex is caught when he is betrayed by his group of friends after another home invasion gone awry. The delinquent is given a 14 year sentence and dragged off to state jail where he is beaten just about every day and forced to share a jail cell with all kinds of savory characters. The cops appear to be just as criminal as the prisoners. After he delivers the death blow to another inmate during an assault the head of the prison decides to make Alex the guinea pig for a program called the Ludovico Technique.

At first Alex thinks this is a step up from jail but he is soon to learn otherwise. The Ludovico Technique is one of conditioning. Through the viewing of several hours of violent images a day combined with medicine which makes the body ill each time the body reacts to a violent image, Alex learns to control his behavior to avoid these pains. He is deemed cured and released from prison.

He goes home only to find that his parents have moved a boarder into his room so he strikes out on his own. He winds up at the home of one of his previous victims who has read about Alex and his miraculous reformation in the paper. At first the victim doesn't recognize him. The man and his friends resolve to use Alex as a poster boy for their anti-government revolution. They do this by driving Alex to attempt suicide and blaming the government for making him unable to function due to his reformation. As Alex recovers from his injuries he also experiences a reverse in his conditioning which allows him to revert to his former violent self.

To make this book more interesting Burgess creates an entire new slang or language that is spoken by all the teenagers in the book called "nadsat". Alex's confession is partially written in this language. What does this mean for the reader? There is a 3 page glossary in the back that you will be flipping to every other sentence just to figure out what is being said. I caught on to the "language" and had to do a lot less flipping about 1/2 way through but it was still annoying. I think even though it upped the interest factor, it also detracted from the question the book was asking "Is being good more important than free will?" Also some of the english language was written in such a way where I thought it was one of the slang words and I found myself flipping to the glossary, not finding anything, and having to derive what was being said from context alone.

What I found interesting also was that even though Alex is absolutely heinous in his thoughts and actions, I did feel a wee bit of sympathy for him once he went through the conditioning and lost his free will. He was abandoned by his parents, friends, treated as if he had never changed and was unable to defend himself from any type violence.

It is certainly a different premise although kind of Orwellian in the futuristic society gone wrong sense. However, I personally do not like to work that hard to read a book. Having to refer to the glossary constantly was really annoying. Of course the only solution to this would be to write the entire book in plain english which would make the book half as interesting. I would recommend it for someone who wants a short read that is something different but not for someone who hated Orwell's 1984 or someone who cannot stomach graphic violence.

If the FTC is wondering: This book is from my own personal library

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