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A Clockwork Orange

A novel by Anthony Burgess

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Simply Horrorshow

  • Feb 24, 2005
Rating:
+5
Great books seldom make for great films, but when they do, it's usually the movie people remember better. Films reach more people, requiring less investment of their time. Plus, when they are made as well and as excitingly as was Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of this Anthony Burgess novel, it's hard not to think of the movie first.

Both feature a young man named Alex who, in what was a vaguely futuristic society for the time, rides around with his friends committing various felonies. Alex lords it over his friends as well, a bit too much. Then he finds himself with one victim too many, and in the hands of the police. His only chance for freedom: Submit to a controversial mind-altering technique that will make him incapable of violence.

There are two reasons the book remains vital above the movie. The first, more surface reason, has to do with Nadsat, the unique argot Burgess developed for the youthful protagonist, Alex, and his friends. For example, while contemplating robbing helpless victims, Alex narrates thusly: "Our pockets were full of deng, so there was no need...of crasting any more pretty polly to tolchock some old veck in an alley and viddy him swim in his own blood..."

You can find a Nadsat glossary online if your edition doesn't have one, but the remarkable thing is how well you pick up on the words' meaning after a few pages without looking up definitions. The movie keeps some of the Nadsat but it doesn't have the same place it has in the book, which is too bad since the language makes a point about the corruption of the culture Alex inhabits.

The second thing about the book that places it over the movie is explaining what the title is all about. The phrase "A Clockwork Orange" recurs through the novel, while never appearing in the movie. "A fair gloopy title," Alex calls it, when he first spies it on a manuscript of an author he is in the process of terrorizing.

As Alex goes on to read, the author describes "a clockwork orange" as the artificial imposition on man of "laws and conditions appropriate to a mechanical creation." This has a ring of irony when Alex himself submits to the technique. It's not that the movie doesn't carry the concept of the clockwork orange, just that it doesn't connect the dots or make the point as effectively.

A third reason to choose the book over the movie is the missing 21st chapter, which is found in later editions of the book but not all, and did not appear in the movie. It's kind of a mixed blessing, since the missing chapter wouldn't have gone so well in the movie (hard to imagine the wonderfully malevolent Malcolm McDowell suddenly having a sensitive moment) but does give the reader something positive to take away from an what otherwise might feel depressing upon reflection, the idea that man has two choices, to be controlled artificially or left to their evil desires.

But "A Clockwork Orange" is not depressing to read through. It's actually thrilling, mind-warping, and more than a bit funny. You will find yourself liking Alex despite yourself, and adapting to his worldview with surprising ease. That's because Burgess does such a good job of representing the devil inside all of us, why we listen to it, and even, most daringly, why it's better to have one than not.

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More A Clockwork Orange (novel) reviews
review by . April 25, 2011
"A Clockwork Orange" is a novel by Anthony Burgess, and it is one of the most famous works of dystopian fiction. It has been made particularly famous by Stanley Kubrick's film adaptation, and both the film and the book are routinely ranked in various surveys amongst the most significant works in their corresponding genres.     One of the main idiosyncrasies of the book is the use of an invented teenage slang (or more specifically "argot") called Nadsat. Burgess was a polyglot, …
review by . April 25, 2011
"A Clockwork Orange" is a novel by Anthony Burgess, and it is one of the most famous works of dystopian fiction. It has been made particularly famous by Stanley Kubrick's film adaptation, and both the film and the book are routinely ranked in various surveys amongst the most significant works in their corresponding genres.     One of the main idiosyncrasies of the book is the use of an invented teenage slang (or more specifically "argot") called Nadsat. Burgess was a polyglot, …
review by . April 25, 2011
"A Clockwork Orange" is a novel by Anthony Burgess, and it is one of the most famous works of dystopian fiction. It has been made particularly famous by Stanley Kubrick's film adaptation, and both the film and the book are routinely ranked in various surveys amongst the most significant works in their corresponding genres.     One of the main idiosyncrasies of the book is the use of an invented teenage slang (or more specifically "argot") called Nadsat. Burgess was a polyglot, …
Quick Tip by . July 16, 2010
Has everything I want in a book. A contained universe that is fully realized, brilliant writing, social satire, and a confusingly sympathetic main character. Check out the Kubrick flick if you haven't yet.
Quick Tip by . July 15, 2010
Prepare yourself for a brainwash. The worst punishment of your phisical sins is inside your mind, inside your soul.
Quick Tip by . July 13, 2010
Watch the movie and then read this book and see how they compare.
Quick Tip by . July 02, 2010
One of the most twisted books I have ever read. I love the characters and the psychology behind it. I love the twist at the end most of all.
Quick Tip by . July 01, 2010
Very difficult read, but keep slogging through. The slang Russian/Cockney gets easier to understand as you go. Disturbing, at the least!
Quick Tip by . July 01, 2010
MAN! What a great novel!
Quick Tip by . June 26, 2010
As though-provoking as they come
About the reviewer
Bill Slocum ()
Ranked #302
Reading is my way of eavesdropping on a thousand conversations, meeting hundreds of new and fascinating people, and discovering what it is about the world I enjoy most. Only after a while, I lose track … more
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Wiki

I do not know of any other writer who has done as much with language as Mr. Burgess has done here-the fact that this is also a very funny book may pass unnoticed. --William S. Burroughs

Novel by Anthony Burgess, published in 1962. Set in a dismal dystopia, it is the first-person account of a juvenile delinquent who undergoes state-sponsored psychological rehabilitation for his aberrant behavior. The novel satirizes extreme political systems that are based on opposing models of the perfectibility or incorrigibility of humanity. Written in a futuristic slang vocabulary invented by Burgess, in part by adaptation of Russian words, it was his most original and best-known work. Alex, the protagonist, has a passion for classical music and is a member of a vicious teenage gang that commits random acts of brutality. Captured and imprisoned, he is transformed through behavioral conditioning into a model citizen, but his taming also leaves him defenseless. He ultimately reverts to his former behavior. The final chapter of the original British edition, in which Alex renounces his amoral past, was removed when the novel was first published in the United States. --The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature--This text refers to an alternatePaperbackedition.
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Details

ISBN-10: 0393312836
ISBN-13: 978-0393312836
Author: Anthony Burgess
Genre: Science Fiction, Political and Social Satire, Dystopian
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company, Ballantine Books
Date Published: 1962
ISBN: 0-434-09800-0
Format: Novel
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