18. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962)
Dates: 4/20/20 – 4/23/20 (3 days)
Basic Plot: In a futuristic society where young gang members are active at night, the narrator, Alex, finds himself indulging in “ultraviolence” which leads to potential reform.
Experience Before Reading: I was technically assigned this book alongside One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in high school. I didn’t really read either and just read enough Sparknotes to get by. I think my knowledge on the plot was blended with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, because there were moments I thought were in the other book and moments I expected to turn out differently. Regardless, the one thing I remembered was a feeling of staunch hate for the book.
Takeaway: I didn’t like it. However, I’m not going to completely bash this book because I can see why others would enjoy it. There are certainly good elements to this story. Anthony Burgess is a talented storywriter and I do feel there is a clear theme that could strike people. (Slight spoiler warning) The message that it is our ability to choose that makes us human is very interesting and I do feel it was unpacked in a way that was different from other philosophy books.
A Clockwork Orange is set in a futuristic society where gangs run rampant at night. Many of these gang members use heavy slang known as nadsat talk. I think this is where the book leaves a bad taste in my mouth (or in nadsat: leaves a baddiwad taste in my rot). The slang is so thick it’s often difficult to tell exactly what’s happening. While I recognize that it’s used to hide the graphic scenes and portray his youth – since not all characters use the slang – it was too much for me. For instance, take this scene where he describes a beautiful woman he sees:
O my brothers, to viddy. That is to say, she had real horrorshow groodies all of which you could like viddy, she having on platties which came down down down off her pletchoes. And her nogas were like Bog in His Heaven, and she walked like to make you groan in your keeshkas, and yet her litso was a sweet smiling young like innocent litso.p.142
While context clues can give you a sense that he likes what he sees, even after reading the entire book, I’m not sure exactly what he’s saying. Personally, this slang created a massive barrier to relating to the narrator, Alex. I couldn’t find much to his personality besides the fact that he likes “ultra-violence” and classical music. Because his personality was centered around, well, bad, I found him forgettable as a character. Maybe there was more, however, I couldn’t decipher it from the nadsat madness.
The slang itself is massively creative and I do want to applaud that. Much of it is Russian-based but other elements are rhyming slang or other linguistic techniques. Basically, each word really does have a reason that it exists which I very much like. I appreciate the effort that went in to creating a cohesive universe.
Lastly, I do want to call attention to the book’s title. I don’t want to spoil the meaning for someone that intends to read the book, but the title is full of symbolism. It was very creative and well-crafted, so again, props where props are due.
Would I Recommend It?: Unfortunately, I think this is a skippable classic. While you may find it entertaining, I think the message of the book is not strong enough in relation to the amount of work you have to put in to decode it.