A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

A Clockwork Orange is a novella about 15 year old Alex and his “droogs” Peter, Georgie, and Dim who commit horrific and vicious crimes. The book was made into a magnificent and controversial movie by Stanley Kubric in 1971 which holds its own against the masterpiece novella. The graphic portrayal of violence throughout the book may not palatable to everyone.

Set in a near future English society, Alex and his friends indulge in ultra-violent criminal activities, sometimes for filling up their pockets and sometimes, just for the pleasure of it. The book opens with them beating up an old man on the street followed by a gang rape, arson and reckless road kills.

“If he can only perform good or only perform evil, then he is a clockwork orange—meaning that he has the appearance of an organism lovely with colour and juice but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil.”

As a part of these heinous crimes, Alex and his droogs raid the mansion of an author and his wife; abusing her and injuring him during the ordeal. The police arrive and Alex is locked in by Dim, as revenge for an altercation they had previously, which leads to the arrest of Alex and a 14 year prison sentence.

“Great Music, it said, and Great Poetry would like quieten Modern Youth down and make Modern Youth more Civilized. Civilized my syphilised yarbles.”

Being the smart and horribly manipulative person, Alex befriends the prisoners and thrives in jail. Consequently, he gets ‘chosen’ for a secretive reform technique called the Ludovico technique which will get him out of prison well before he completes his term.The rest of the book eloquently narrates if this ‘reforms’ Alex into a good citizen or not.

Year of Publication – 1963
Printed pages – 192

Of the more interesting parts of the book include the use of Nadsat, the Russian influenced slang (argot) used by the teenage population in the book. Burgess’ work with language in the book is wonderful to read throughout the book though it is difficult to understand in the beginning. His association with music composition is evident with the references to many symphonies (of Beethoven, among others) and its effect on the characters.

“Welly, welly, welly, welly, welly, welly, well. To what do I owe the extreme pleasure of this surprising visit?”

One of the underlying themes of the book is the question if a person can be ‘reformed’ by the use of corrective and assertive therapy. If methods and techniques based on borderline torture can make an criminal into a well behaving citizen.

“I see you have books under your arm, brother. It is indeed a rare pleasure these days to come across somebody that still reads, brother.”

However, the acts and crimes by the underage criminals are very detailed and it is not recommended for those who can’t stomach ultra violent descriptions. Yet, this is a book worth picking up for its gritty narrative and a surprising end to a horrific tale.

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