Friday, 10 August 2012

Book #19

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Fifteen-year-old Alex and his three friends start an evening's mayhem by hitting an old man, tearing up his books and stripping him of his money and clothes. Or rather Alex and his three droogs tolchock an old veck, razrez his books, pull off his outer platties and take a malenky bit of cutter. For Alex's confessions are written in 'nadsat' - the teenage argot of a not-too-distant future. Because of his delinquent excesses, Alex is jailed and made subject to 'Ludovico's Technique', a chilling experiment in Reclamation Treatment.

This book is a very firm favourite of mine, and I consider each time I read it to be a sheer treat. It's one that almost everyone will have heard of, but hardly anyone has read. Many will have seen the Kubrick film adaptation, of course, but you can't beat the book.

The language Burgess uses to narrate the novel - Nadsat, the teenage slang of a dystopian future - will certainly put people off reading this. It's not too hard to get used to, though, and I find it an absolute joy. I loved being able to understand the language, and also to work out the origins of some of the words. Burgess takes words from the Bible, Shakespeare, the Russian language, and even Cockney rhyming slang. It is wonderful if you are a lover of words, but I'm quite unsure as to whether every reader of this book will respond to Nadsat in this way. Nevertheless, I found it absolutely amazing.

Violence is at the centre of the entire novel, with Burgess describing a variety of crimes to us in a vivid and lengthy fashion. It's nothing less than delicious. However, although Alex and his droogs concentrate fully on crime and violence, the novel does not condone this in any way. This is not about glorifying their misdeeds; Burgess explores the idea of free will, and whether it is better that a man chooses to be good rather than being scientifically conditioned to be a pillar of the community.

I liked many of the points Burgess makes in the novel, but one in particular sticks out for me. The idea of crime and criminals is normally centred around lack of education and/or culture. Alex is an extremely cultured individual with an interest in classical music. Burgess is saying here that being cultured and educated does not a good person make.

I could go on and on about this book all night, but how much can one say about an infamous novel that hasn't already been said? This is a challenging book, and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who isn't prepared to persevere. It is undoubtedly worth it, though, and I really would urge frequent readers, or lovers of words, to pick this up.

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