Book Review: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (Book Review)A Clockwork Orange is set in a rather grim and violent future. The story is written in the first person and split into three parts. Part one opens to find the central character, fifteen-year-old Alex, sitting in the Korova Milkbar, along with his three droogs Pete, Georgie and Dim—who isn’t the brightest of blokes but is, as Alex puts it, ‘a horrorshow filthy fighter and very handy with the boot.’

Okay, I’ve just used a couple of words that you are probably not familiar with: ‘droogs’ and ‘horrorshow.’ If you decide to read A Clockwork Orange, though, you will find that the whole book is full of words that seem to have escaped entry in your dictionary because Alex and his friends speak the fictional language of Nadstat, which is very much like normal English, but with some extra words. In fact there are enough of these words to necessitate a glossary of the Nadstat language at the end of the book.

The first page of the book contains so many Nadstat words that I found it quite hard to get my gulliver (head) around them at first, but I am not mentioning this to put you off reading the book. I’m just trying to give you an idea what to expect. A Clockwork Orange is very good and I enjoyed reading it. The Nadstat threw me a little at first, but the language is important to the story and gives the book a unique feel.

When I saw all of the Nadstat words on the first page I took a look at the glossary and decided that I did not want to learn a new vocabulary before reading the story, so I decided that I would try and manage without it. There were occasions that I had to refer to the glossary while I was reading, but most of the time I managed to get a pretty good idea of the meaning of the Nadstat words by where they were used and by the context that they were used in.

I read A Clockwork Orange in just two sittings and I think that helped matters. If I was the sort of person who reads just a few pages or a couple of chapters a day I think I would have struggled. If you decide to read the book you might find the same thing because by ingesting the story in larger pieces it is far easier to get a feel for it. That’s how it worked for me anyway.

Continuing the story, Alex and his droogs are not exactly boy scouts and after they leave the Korova Milkbar they manage to fit in a full evening of bad deeds. First they beat up an old man and damn near kill him and then they get into a street-fight with a rival gang. Later on they steal a car, drive out to the county and force their way into to someone’s home. Once inside they beat up owner of the house—a writer who is busy penning a book called A Clockwork Orange—and gang-rape his young wife, while forcing the writer to watch. Nasty stuff! And, after such a full evening, Alex doesn’t feel up to school the next day and so compounds his sins by playing truant.

Part two of the book finds Alex a couple of years older, none the wiser, and doing time in prison for killing an old lady while trying to rob her. Alex is keen to get out of prison and pursue his former activities and so when he hears about the new Ludovic Technique he is keen to undergo the treatment because it means that he will get out of prison in just two weeks and be considered fully rehabilitated and no longer a danger to the community. But, of course, Alex doesn’t realize that he really will be a changed man and it isn’t until he begins treatment that he gets an idea of how his life is going to be.

In Part three Alex is out of prison and just the thought of violence is enought to make him feel physically ill, which is not exactly good for his wellbeing in such a violent, nasty world and Alex finds himself completely unable to defend himself when trouble comes knocking at his door.

A Clockwork Orange is not a very long book. In my copy the story is told in just 139 pages and the Nadstat bibliography adds a few pages on top of that. Copies from a different print-run might gain or loose a few pages, but even a large print edition would never make a good doorstop. The book is a little violent in places, but it is pretty tame in comparison to a lot of books these days. There are elements of horror to the story and also elements of sci-fi, but A Clockwork Orange is a book that could be enjoyed by any reader and perhaps even contains a few social lessons that we could all learn from. Like a lot of books, though, it is only as deep as the reader wants to look and at any level it is an enjoyable read.

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