book reviews

Review: A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess

A Clockwork Orange

GoodReads – A Clockwork Orange

My first thought having read the first chapter of this book:

“Right, so what the fuck did I just read?”

A Clockwork Orange is written from the perspective of Alex, a teen who spends his time away from school by terrorising the local neighbourhood. It’s safe to say, he’s a bad egg. When he isn’t doing that, he is usually in his room deep in the peaceful abyss of classical music. He narrates his tale in the language that he uses when with his crew and fellow teens of the book; it is a confusing form of slang with Russian being a heavy influence.

Our pockets were full of deng, so there was no real need from the point of view of crasting any more pretty polly to tolchock some old veck in an alley and viddy him swim in his blood while we counted the takings and divided by four, nor to do the ultra-violent on some shivering starry grey haired ptitsa in a shop and go smecking off with the till’s guts. But, as they say, money isn’t everything.

If you are anything like me, you would probably have been scratching your head at this point, but as you read on you begin to work out the meaning of the obscure words. Some are less obvious than others, trust me. The above caption from the book should give you an idea of the attitude of the teens, and the older characters of the book we meet indicate that this attitude is wide-spread. A lot of people fear to walk the streets at night, frightened of each of the gang leaders and their “droogs” (that’s friends, to you and I). Those who don’t fear the streets will wish they hadn’t ventured out.

When we meet Alex it is apparent he is already a person of interest by social services, and much as the title foreshadows, he always ends up on the same path of crime and anti-social behaviour. The law catches up with Alex when he becomes responsible for the death of an elderly woman, and as a result he is sentenced to fourteen years in prison. After two years he kills a cell mate who tries to get too “friendly” with him – I find it ironic that as a person he would think nothing of such behaviour if it were him committing the act, but it being done to himself is an entirely different story.

I have digressed; after this Alex is put forward for a program designed to reform individuals like him in as little as two weeks. This ultimately becomes a highly controversial method of treatment as Alex, being “reformed” (or mentally scarred through a cruel form of torture if you ask me) is released back into the new world. He struggles to adapt to his new life, feels rejected by his parents and is no longer able to love classical music as a result of the “treatment” he received. Much again in line with the concept of clockwork, once out he finds himself subjected to beatings from the police and subjected to being treated as if he is on the bottom rung of society.

He ultimately attempts to commit suicide. Whilst he doesn’t succeed in this he frees himself of the conditioning of his mind – he can listen to classical music and his thoughts venture into the desire to commit violent acts again. Does this make him “normal” again? Who can say definitively. There is wrong and there is right, but equally there are so many shades of grey in between, and that is where we all find ourselves… somewhere between the goal posts of the “holy saint” and “spawn of the devil”.

The book is an interesting read in that it highlights a number of issues in the justice system. Whilst ethically no treatment like Alex endured could be practiced now, it raises questions as to how far we can go in order to guide people to behave in a manner defined be society as acceptable. At the end of the book Alex raises the point as to what he could do were his son to behave in the same way, and his son after him etc… like clockwork.

Sadly, it is equally apparent that society shuns these individuals regardless of reform or punishment just as rigidly.

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