If I had not read A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess along with Danielle, I doubt I would have managed to finish it. It’s a book that is generally ranked among the classics and I have been wanting to read it for ages. It wasn’t the Nadsat slang that put me off, I admire Burgess for doing that, a very bold move on his part. I mean, there must have been, and are, so many people put off by a book that reads like this throughout:
Then, brothers, it came. Oh bliss, bliss and heaven. I lay all nagoy to the ceiling, my gulliver on my rookers on the pillow, glazzies closed, rot open in bliss, slooshying the sluice of lovely sounds. Oh, it was gorgeousness and gorgeosity made flesh.
Burgess created the slang himself using the Russian language as a base. Sometimes the language in the book can be rather poetic. At other times I was a bit baffled and just had to go with it. To Burgess’s credit, I was never lost and unable to figure out what was going on in the story because of the language.
In case you don’t know what the book is about, a quick synopsis. Alex is a teenager and lives in a not too distant future England. Alex is the leader of a gang and he and his “droogs” go out at night to drink and get high and do some “ultra-violence” (burglary, armed robbery, assault, rape and eventually murder). When Alex murders a woman in her home, his gang abandons him. Alex goes to prison and after a couple years he is offered a choice. He can serve out his fourteen-year sentence, or he can undergo a behavior modification treatment called the Ludovico Technique and be released from prison. Alex, not quite understanding what he is agreeing to, opts for the treatment. The results of the process make Alex become sick at even the thought of violence. Unfortunately, the treatment also leaves him unable to enjoy the classical music he so loves.
Once out of prison, Alex finds his parents have rented out his room and he has nowhere to go. His first day out is a harrowing one as he is assaulted by people he had beat up previously and one of his former droogs and a gang rival are police officers now who take Alex outside of town and pretty much beat the crap out of him. Eventually Alex tries to commit suicide. He fails to kill himself but the head injury he gets from it cures him of his “cure.”
There is a controversial final chapter that appears in the British version but not in the US version. In the UK version, the book has a “happy” ending: Alex “grows up” and decides he wants to get married and have a family. The US version ends with Alex being cured from his conditioning and thinking of all the violent fun he’ll be able to have again.
That synopsis did not go as quickly as I had hoped.
The book is broken up into three sections. The first section is unrelentingly violent. This is why I almost put the book down. It really made me feel sick as though I was the one who had gone through the Ludovico Treatment. The next section is Alex in prison and the aversion therapy. The final section is Alex after being released from prison.
I had a few problems with the book besides the violence. Alex is such an unsympathetic character with no remorse for his actions that I had a hard time feeling sorry for him going through the aversion therapy. Burgess clearly wants us to know the therapy is wrong; it takes away a person’s free will. It is also, of course, a slippery slope. First the state puts violent criminals through the therapy and next thing you know, anyone who doesn’t agree with the government is getting the treatment too. If Alex had been a more sympathetic character I would have felt the wrongness of the treatment more than just intellectually. As it was, I found myself pleased about Alex getting a taste of his own medicine, as it were.
The other problem I had is with the “happy” ending. Alex gathers together a new gang and continues in his old ways until suddenly one day, after meeting one of his old droogs who is now happily married, he decides he’d like to get married and have a family. But as he is thinking all this, he is also thinking that his son will probably be violent and his son, and so on and so on and there is nothing that can be done about it. This, to me seems like a boys-will-be-boys kind of thing as well as suggesting that violence is something they just have outgrow. I almost hurt myself grinding my teeth together.
Clockwork Orange is an interesting book and I am glad to have read it, but I can’t say I liked the book or the reading experience.