A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

A Clockwork OrangeDisturbing, powerful and thought-provoking in equal measure, ‘A Clockwork Orange’ by Anthony Burgess tells the story of Alex, a 15 year old anti-hero in a dystopian future who carries out theft, rape and murder before ending up in prison where he is put through an experiment in an attempt to cure him.  Anyone who has tried to read my Kindle over my shoulder on the train to work this week will probably have regretted it. The book is pretty brutal.

I was originally going to suggest that if you plan to read this book you might want to have a Russian slang dictionary to hand.  However, I think working out what the words mean without prompts is actually more interesting. Besides, if you read this on an e-reader as I did, it would be quite impractical to flip back to a glossary all the time.  Glossary or no glossary, Burgess’s use of language is not just original – it is mind-bending.  The same can be said about the themes of the book which pose some particularly difficult questions about state control.

This book might be short but it is by far the most challenging I have come across for a long time.  It didn’t freak me out as much as ‘Crash’ by J.G. Ballard but that is probably because Burgess somehow manages to provoke some level of sympathy from the reader towards Alex even though he has committed appalling crimes.  ‘A Clockwork Orange’ is a multi-layered classic which I’m still trying to absorb –  I think I will re-read it one day hopefully when I’m not on a commuter train at 8am.

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

  1. I remember reading this in 8th grade – a version without the dictionary. Doable, but I bet it would have been less confusing with one! Even then I thought it was really good. I can only imagine that this is a book I would like more now that I’m older. (The movie definitely got better for me as I aged).

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  2. I read this for a course in the spring and our professor strongly suggested we not use the glossary and see how quickly we caught on to the slang. I was surprised at how easily you can pick up the words without the glossary. In fact, I found it useful to read the first five pages a couple times before I moved on, just to get into the language.

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  3. Good summary. There was an interesting article from 1971 or so, reprinted in a recent New Yorker, in which Burgess described the thoughts that preoccupied him when he wrote it. Also, one correction, J.G. Ballard wrote Crash. 🙂

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  4. I have to read this book for University. I haven’t started yet but I am eager to now after reading your review!

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  5. I haven’t read this yet but I’ll try to find a paperback. I’ve come across this before since it’s a psychological novel. Lucky you!

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  6. Memorable book nad a good review – ‘The Wanting Seed’ by Burgess in another book in the same vein.

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  7. Had you seen the movie first? For me, the movie is disturbing enough. I want to read the book at some point, but will I be too distracted by my memories of the movie?

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  8. It does sound a seminal work for sure.

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