Book Reviews

Book Review: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (Book Review)A Clockwork Orange is an unusual book to read and review. It was written by Anthony Burgess and is the work he is most famous for. The book was first published in 1962. Nine years later, Stanley Kubrick adapted the story for a film. Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange was very controversial and sparked a lot of interest in the original book.

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, a 15-year-old boy named Alex, sitting in the Korova Milkbar. His his three droogs Pete, Georgie and Dim are with him. Dim isn’t the brightest of blokes but, as Alex puts it, he’s ‘a horrorshow filthy fighter and very handy with the boot.’

I’ve just used a couple of words that you are probably not familiar with: ‘droogs’ and ‘horrorshow.’ If this review encourages you to read A Clockwork Orange, you will find 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. It’s very similar to normal English, but has some extra words. In fact, there are so many Nadstat words in a Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess had to include a glossary of the language at the end of the book.

The first page of A Clockwork Orange 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 a very good book. 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 figured I’d try and manage without it. There were occasions when I had to refer to the glossary while I was reading. However, 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. If you read the book, you may find this approach works for you too.

I read A Clockwork Orange in just two sittings. 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.

Alex and his droogs are not exactly boy scouts. 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. 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 the owner of the houseā€”a writer who is busy penning a book he plans to call “A Clockwork Orange.” They follow this up by gang-raping the writer’s young wife and force him to watch. Nasty stuff!

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 he was trying to rob. Alex is keen to get out of prison and pursue his former activities, 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. Furthermore, after the treatment, he will be considered fully rehabilitated and no longer a danger to the community.

Alex doesn’t realize he really will be a changed man after the treatment and it isn’t until it commences that he gets an idea of how his new life is going to be.

In Part three of the book, Alex is out of prison and just the thought of violence makes him feel physically ill. That’s not good for his well-being in such a violent, nasty world. Poor Alex finds he is unable to defend himself when trouble comes knocking at his door.

A Clockwork Orange is not a very long book. My copy tells the story in just 139 pages and the Nadstat bibliography adds a few extra pages on top. Copies from a different print-runs might gain or loose a few pages, but even a large print edition would never make a good doorstop.

As you will have gathered from rest of this book review, A Clockwork orange is a little violent in places. However, you may be surprised to learn it’s pretty tame in comparison to a lot of books you can buy these days. There are elements of horror to the story and also elements of sci-fi as well, but A Clockwork Orange is a book that could be enjoyed by any reader and, perhaps, even contains a few social lessons 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 entertaining book to read.