“What’s it going to be then, eh?”
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess is one of my all time favourite novels and seemed like a perfect starting point for my little literature reviews. I’m also currently studying this novel alongside 1984, Fahrenheit 451 and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? for my dissertation on dystopian fiction.
Just to set off on the right foot, the novel isn’t nearly as steampunk as the title and above cover make it seem. I was looking for a cover to attach to this review and found the cover art on deviantart at throatwolf.deviantart.com , I absolutely loved it so figured it was worth putting in a mention~
A Clockwork Orange is a novel written by Anthony Burgess and was designed as a response to the controversial work of B. F. Skinner, a famous behavioural psychologist of the time whose work focused on the possibility of controlling behavioural habits. The novel follows the narrative of fifteen year old hooligan, Alex DeLarge, who loves nothing more than indulging in a little ‘ultra-violence’ with his streetwise ‘droogs’. However, when a burglary goes array and escalates to murder, Alex is abandoned by his ‘droogs’ and sentenced to life imprisonment. After months of imprisonment, Alex shows a seeming want for reform by reading the Bible (though in actuality he enjoys reading about the violence of the Old Testament), and is offered a way out; a form of experimental therapy that will compel him away from the impulse to do evil and force him to react only with good. Sacrificing his free will for a shortened prison sentence, Alex agrees to take part and is released onto the streets once more. But the world has changed and without the ability to defend himself against the past, Alex is chased away from his family and friends. Searching for refuge and help, he eventually comes to the home of a political spokesman and former victim of his youth. Unfortunately, Alex does not recognise his victim from so long ago and accepts the man’s help; but the victim remembers Alex all too well. Seeing an opportunity for revenge, the man uses Alex as a tool to gain political favour then disposes of him in the only way he sees fit: using Alex’s lack of free will to force him to attempt suicide.
A Clockwork Orange is an incredibly powerful novel that explores these themes with surprising ease. The ‘nadsat’ language used throughout the text is beautifully crafted and is based on an ingenious blend of Elizabethan English and Russian. It is catchy and endearing, often intruding in the reader’s own speech for weeks after reading. While it is true that the language is intimidating and challenging at first, it is almost guaranteed to be a second language to the reader by the time they have reached Part 2.
Alex himself is a veritable charmer; despite his crimes and violent, psychopathic faults, he is at heart a true gentleman. He takes pride in cleanliness and appearance, a fan of Beethoven and waltzing, he is charming and entertaining to follow through his narrative. One can almost forgive him his crimes for the sympathy he draws at the later stages of the novel and his narrative is engaging throughout. There is no narrator more unreliable, but there is no narrator easier to believe.
A Clockwork Orange is entertaining, challenging and philosophically engaging. I would recommend it heartily to anyone who doesn’t mind a streak of violence in their evening reading.