A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

In Burgess's infamous nightmare vision of youth culture in revolt, 15-year-old Alex, a charismatic, psychopathic delinquent whose pleasures are classical music (especially Beethoven), rape, and so-called 'ultra-violence', leads a small gang of thugs (Pete, Georgie, and Dim), whom he calls his droogs (from the Russian друг, "friend", "buddy") on a diabolical orgy of robbery, rape, torture and murder.

This is another cult classic, this one dating back to 1962, perhaps made most famous (?) by Stanley Kubricks film adaption from 1971. I've once attempted to watch the film and had to give up as it was just too damn bizarre.

The book is set in a near future English society that has a subculture of extreme youth violence, and tells the horrific crime spree of young Alex and his gang, Alex's jailing for his teenage delinquency, and attempted rehabilitation via a controversial psychological conditioning technique.

Alex features as the book's narrator and tells most of the tale in Nadsat, a fractured, contemporary adolescent slang comprising Slavic (especially Russian), English, and Cockney rhyming slang. - and let me just say, that sh*t is hard to read! I honestly only made it through this book because it was the readathon and I vowed to myself to just keep reading. The first few pages were complete gibberish, but slowly I started to grasp some meaning of the words and recognize what he meant. This paperback novel is thankfully only 149 pages long so you can, if determined, read it in just one sitting (and frankly, I think it's easier to read it in one go, while you can remember what all the outlandish words means).

I'll admit I had the wikipedia entry on hand as I read the book. It's split into 3 parts and I read those and the wikipedia entry simultaneously just to make sure I actually did understand what the book was saying. Sometimes it was mere lucky guesswork.

[also I strongly encourage people to read this in English as I refuse to believe any translator can possibly translate this book and keep the spirit of it in tact.]

While the book is in part complete and utter madness there's also something strangely fascinating and satisfying about it. Alex tells his story in a first person singular perspective. He never apologizes or justifies his actions, he stands by who he is and feels sorry for himself when he feels wronged - and you sort of end up feeling sorry for him as well, even though he's a total psycho-/sociopath. It is, of sorts, a coming of age story, but it's also a look into a twisted dark mind and whether fighting fire with fire is an acceptable solution.

I'm not sure if I'd say this book is good or bad, but I think it's worth reading, once you're ready. There's quite a lot of food for thought.

by Anthony Burgess
ISBN13: 9780140274097
149 pages / Published in 1962

Review by Iben Jakobsen, BoB, 2015


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