Book Review: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Title: A Clockwork Orange

Author: Anthony Burgess

Number of Pages: 192

Genre: Dystopian Sci-fi

Rating: B

Recommended?: Yes


 

I probably don’t need to explain at length what A Clockwork Orange is about, even if you haven’t read the book or seen the Stanley Kubrick film adaptation the premise is very well-known among the public and if you haven’t been living under a rock for the last God-knows-how-many years you probably have an idea what it entails. The novel is both similar and very different from the film, the characters and general structure are pretty much the same but there certain changes have been made. The book might be even darker than the film (especially because of the addition of a scene where Alex picks up two ten-year-old girls) but the book feels a little less graphic. Sequences such as the iconic home invasion scene (no “Singing in the Rain” in the book, though) are more oblique and deliberated over in less length than in the film.

 

 

Like many people, I watched the film first and I was initially intimidated by this novel  because the made-up dialect Alex uses seemed like it would be too confusing. However, when I actually took the time to sit down and read it and it turned out not to be a difficult read at all. I could often pick up on what a lot of the slang meant from context and I gradually began to memorize some of the words Anthony Burgess invented for the novel. A Clockwork Orange is unlike any book I’d ever read before, and although it didn’t beat Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury for top spot as my favorite dystopian novel, it held it’s own against others in the genre I’ve read with it’s memorable central character (I hesitate to call him the ‘protagonist’, but this is a literary world with very few redeeming characters indeed) and it’s cutting social commentary concerning morality and the nature of free will.

 

 

Alex DeLarge is impossible to sympathize with and I didn’t feel sorry for him despite the multitude of horrific events that befell him (I figured his victims had probably suffered worse at his hands,) but the capacity to feel for the main character isn’t the point of this novel or ultimately crucial to it’s message. I read a version of the novel with the extra chapter that had been initially removed upon publication (against Anthony Burgess’ wishes) and I personally didn’t really like Burgess’ preferred ending. The change Alex undergoes seemed forced, and portraying his character’s behavior as the folly of youth rather than the actions of an irredeemable sociopath felt emotionally dishonest.

 

 

I enjoyed the novel A Clockwork Orange but I think I might have liked the film adaptation just a little bit better. Malcolm McDowell gave such a  spectacular performance (if you watch the movie first it’s hard to read the book without picturing him) and the film’s set design  was so visually striking that I feel like Kubrick might have improved upon the novel slightly, but it’s a close race between the two. I felt that there were enough changes made to the story for the film that reading the book didn’t feel like a case of been-there-done-that.

 

 

I was also surprised by what a quick and relatively easy read it was.  I personally don’t know anything about Anthony Burgess’ other books and I’d like to read some of the other ones he’s written in the future. Interestingly, in the forward he seemed bitter that people had put so much focus on this novel when he personally felt he had written ones that were far superior. I’m glad I took the opportunity to read this book (I borrowed it off of my cousin’s shelf) and that the way in which it was written ultimately didn’t dissuade me from giving it a chance.

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