A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962)
Does God want goodness or the choice of goodness? Is a man who chooses to be bad perhaps in some way better than a man who has the good imposed upon him?
One-sentence summary: In a near-future England, Alex — a psychopathic 15-year-old who, along with his fellow “droogs,” engages in nightly random “ultra-violence” — is arrested and undergoes an experimental aversion therapy to “cure” him of his violent tendencies at the expense of his free will.
When read: I read this as a teenager.
Why read: It’s a dystopian classic.
Impressions: I distinctly recall reading this at my grandparents’ house, probably one summer when I was teenager. I remember it because it felt like a big accomplishment to me as a young reader to have completed this challenging novel, which is written in a slang dialect that Burgess invented, and to have enjoyed it. Along with 1984, it was an early entry in my lifelong love of dystopian fiction, and an influential one. Because of the extreme violence of the book, though, I have been reluctant to re-experience it (again, like 1984).
Current status: I have a copy in my permanent library.
- Burgess claimed that he wrote A Clockwork Orange in 3 weeks for the money and later repudiated the book. It is considered by Modern Library to be one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.
- Nadsat is the fictional dialect in which the novel is narrated; it was influenced by Russian and Slavic languages and Cockney rhyming slang. Burgess made up a dialect instead of using contemporary slang becuase he didn’t want the book to become dated.
- In the original American edition, the publishers persuaded Burgess to cut the final chapter to give the book a darker ending, which they felt would appeal more to an American audience. The chapter has been restored in editions published later than 1986.
- Burgess did not like the film adaptation by Stanley Kubrick and thought it glamorized sex and violence. The film is based on the original American version, which is missing the final chapter. It is one of the few Kubrick films that I actually have not seen.
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