Book of da Week: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess
O my brothers!

O my brothers, what have we here? It’s A Clockwork Orange and, no, not the film! It’s Anthony Burgess’ brilliant novel – the Mancunian (where we’re from) wrote it in three weeks on a spur of the moment whim and, O my brothers, it’s a bloody marvellous piece of literature. Social satire, science-fiction, drama, and dark comedy all wrapped into one inventive piece of genius, dare we write such a statement!

Other than George Orwell’s brilliant Nineteen Eighty-Four (currently back in the bestsellers list after another resurgence), we can’t think of any other novel from the 20th century which popularised new terms such as a bit of the old ultra-violence, O my brothers. With a controversial, banned film to back it up, it’s remained something of a sensation but, at the heart of it all, you have a fantastic novel which makes one pontificate liberally.

A Clockwork Orange

In this strange, dystopian England we have Alex – he’s a 15 year old who is rather fond of classical music (Beethoven, in particular) and generally being a subversive, anarchic little git. With his cronies the droogs, he terrorises the local neighbourhood whilst drinking milk laced with narcotics and speaking nadsat (slang which Burgess invented for the novel).

After one of the droog’s destructive rampages lands Alex in jail, two years on he’s handed the opportunity for a ticket back into society. The Ludovico Technique is promptly used on him, which is a highly experimental, destructive psychological experiment which terrorises Alex’s brain. The final part of the story deals with Alex’s attempts to immerse himself back into society whilst the ramifications of the Ludovico Technique are considered with his continued anti-social behaviour.

We’ve kept that brief so as not to hurl too many spoilers around, although the chances are (so long as you’re not a 10 year old) you know the story already. Many people will likely have watched the film adaptation (see below), rather than read the novel, but this is doing yourself a great disservice.

With his darkly humourous and innovative use of language, in A Clockwork Orange Burgess brings to life a frightening, weird world. Youth in revolt is a consistent theme and, of course, it’s easy for older generations to look at the youth of today and presume the world is imploding: “What’s the world coming to?!” etc. It’s the bloody libtards what done it, Guv.

Whilst today’s youth will sling “blud” and “bro” around until, hopefully, they reach age 17 and move onto better phrases such as “biatch” and all that, in A Clockwork Orange the strange world of nadsat emphasises a deeply unstable society – a world where everything is a bit out of joint.

So, whilst Alex rants in often incomprehensible gibberish, you’ll be amused, bemused, and rather unsettled – hey, at least they couldn’t take selfies: “Here I am, O my brothers, all bezoomny after a bitva like some veshch pouting”. Take the trip – this is one of the best novels from the 20th century.

Film Adaptation

In 1971, Stanley Kubrick released an adaptation of A Clockwork Orange. Considered something of a masterpiece now, it was also insanely controversial for the time and led to Warner Brothers being inundated with complaints of outrage. At the request of Kubrick, the film was withdrawn from cinemas in 1973 and effectively banned.

After Kubrick died in 1999, his family, along with Warner Brothers, put into motion a plan to re-release the film. It hit cinemas and VHS again soon after – you can read about the story of A Clockwork Orange on the Guardian. You should also read Burgess’ brilliant novel as well as watch the film and enjoy a bit of the old ultra-violence. Then you can have a spot of tea and relax.

7 comments

  1. Here in NZ the movie was R20. When I saw it, the audience was filled with punks who’d had the yarbles to turn up in full regalia. Could have been spoogy, but luckily I had a few droogs with me, which was polezny.

    • I can see why punks would love the film! So long as you have droogs with you, all will be well, O my brothers. Or “innit”, as kids these days would use.

      I remember my father managing to pick up a pirated copy on VHS in 1997 when we were on holiday in Europe. Quite the rare find at the time due to the ban, although the quality was abysmal and I was 12 and had no idea what was going on. So the meaning was lost on me at the time.

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