|A Clockwork Orange|
Title: A Clockwork Orange
Author: Anthony Burgess
Publication Date: 1962
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 1/2/16
Summary: In a dystopian London, a reprehensible teenager commits crimes, endures "rehabilitation," and hits the streets again.
What I Thought: I knew this book was going to be tough for me. I have seen the movie many years back and definitely disliked it. I both disliked the style of Stanley Kubrick's adaptation and the plot itself. This book is, in many ways, a celebration of violence. In an introduction Burgess wrote to the edition I read, he stated that Alex is acting out the desires we all hold in our hearts but most will never act on. I could not disagree with that idea more. I have no innate desire to rape, pillage, and plunder and, while I accept that some people do have those buried desires, I certainly do not think I am alone in recognizing their absence within myself.
Surprisingly, despite the intense use of made up slang, I enjoyed Burgess's writing style. The book was much more readable than I had expected. Granted, the content made me cringe at times and I found the motivations of main character Alex, whom Wikipedia calls the books "anti-hero," difficult to understand. To me, raging against the machine is all well and good if you actually have something to rage about. I'm not into civil disobedience for its own sake. The criminals in this book seemed to be acting out because they could, not because they had anything about which to be particularly upset. This is especially evident in Alex's interactions with his parents. They seem perfectly nice, if meek in the face of his rebellion.
Interestingly, Burgess wrote 21 chapters (in order to symbolize the advent of adulthood at 21), but the American edition never published the final chapter. Kubrick's film also leaves it out. In the final chapter, Alex runs into a member of his original gang who is now married and settled, having left a life of crime. This encounter finally forces Alex to look afresh at his own life and consider his future. Kubrick and others have argued the final chapter is out of step with the rest of the book, but I think that was Burgess' point. Upon reaching adulthood, many of us make decisions and shift our life course in ways we never would have expected as a teenager. Wisdom and cognitive development begin to kick in in new ways. I can fully accept that this happened to Alex in the last chapter. To me, it only feels out of place because we do not see the external fruition of that internal shift; the book ends as one chapter closes and another begins.
I really respect Burgess' work here. However, as I have mentioned with some other books lately, I wish there were easier ways to express character depravity and desperation without graphic violence. Call it my own political leanings at work, but the older I get, the more uncomfortable I am with our culture of violence and its manifestations in literature and entertainment. I fully recognize its role in story-telling and its necessity at times. Still... is there a way to voice its consequences through more ambiguous language? Fellow readers - what are your thoughts on this issue?
Will I Re-Read: No thanks
A Reduced Review: Burgess' writing was a pleasant surprise, but I disdained the excessive violence as much as I had anticipated I would.