Burgess, Anthony

About the Author:

Anthony Burgess was born in Manchester, England in 1917 and later studied English at university there.  He served in the Army's Education Corps during the Second World War and was later an education officer in the Colonial Service in Malaya and Borneo.  In 1959 Burgess was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour and given less than a year to live but actually died in November 1993.



4 out of 5

(1 book)

A Clockwork Orange

In a near-future dystopia, teenager Alex and his friends spend their evenings roaming the streets and indulging their violent impulses in assault, theft and rape.  However, a burglary gone wrong puts Alex into the hands of the authorities who are determined to punish him for his monstrous behaviour or force a cure for it upon him.

Like Stephen King's 'The Shining' or Arthur C. Clarke's '2001: A Space Odyssey', this book has entered the public consciousness more through the brilliance of Stanley Kubrick's infamous movie adaption than through its own merits.  It's worthwhile then to point out the two major differences since they will genuinely affect how you feel about this book if, like me, your prior knowledge of it is through the movie.

One of the differences is that Kubrick's film is based on the American edition of the novel, the ending of which Burgess changed due to pressure from the US publishers.  In a rare event, it was decided that the US market would prefer a pessimistic ending (Burgess himself said 'My book was Kennedyan and accepted the notion of moral progress.  What was really wanted was a Nixonian book with no shred of optimism in it') and so the last chapter was dropped.  However, that last chapter is integral to one of the themes of the novel in a way I'll explain in a moment.  It's worth noting that whatever your feelings about optimistic or pessimistic endings overall, Burgess intended this book to have the former.

The other and far more fundamental difference between film and novel is that most of the book is written in Nadsat, which is a psuedo-futuristic slang Burgess invented and which mashes together Slavic words and Cockney rhyming slang.  The visual medium means that only the dialogue is rendered thus, but here the bulk of the text is made up of unfamiliar nouns, verbs and adjectives.  This means that this is a challenging novel to read, where you have to get a sense of the meaning of a sentence or paragraph more from its context than from the words from which it's constructed.  Before buying or borrowing this book be sure to read the first page and understand that the whole book is the same as that, only then decide whether you've got the determination to push on.  With that said, you do find that slowly you begin to pick up the meanings of various recurring words and it's really quite interesting to realise that, by the end, you're understanding most if not all of Alex's narration.

At its core this book is a coming-of-age story and that's where Burgess' original ending comes into play.  The book as a whole is a reflection on the teenage years we all go through and which, in the 1960s, Western culture was also going through.  Years of change, upheaval, confusion and breaking from what has been laid down by the older generation.  The author's preferred ending sees Alex coming out the other side of his years of violent rebellion in the way that almost all of us do ourselves.  Obviously, Alex's penchant for rape and assault is the very extreme end of teenage misbehaviour but Burgess also shows that, in responding to this ungovernable youth element, the establishment are just as capable of reprehensible extremes.  In the real world American psychologist B. F. Skinner advocated using positive and negative reinforcement techniques to programme children into being better citizens and Burgess is clearly critical of the idea of turning people into, as Alex uses the phrase, clockwork oranges.

This is a really strong, intellectually stimulating novel but you have to want to read it on those grounds because the language it's written in means that you'll have to put in a lot of brain-aching thought to make sense of each sentence.  Overall, I'm glad I've read it but am equally glad I'm finished with it.

4 out of 5


Science Fiction (here)