Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Review: A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess

A Clockwork OrangeAdrift in the impersonal, iron-gray society of the superstate, the novel's main character, 15-year-old Alex, leads his gang of teenage rockers in all night orgies of random violence and destruction. This is Alex's story- of rapes and stompings and rumbles with the police, of prison life and the frightful "Ludovico Technique" by which Alex is "reconditioned" into a model citizen, and of his subsequent adventures as a mindless pawn in the cynical hands of the authorities.

Fifteen-year-old Alex and his 'droogs' like violence. They like drugs. Alex also likes Beethoven. The story follows Alex on a crime spree that eventually finds him at the mercy of the state and in the hands of Dr Brodsky, a psychologist. Alex is to learn that ultra-violence is anything but fun.

A Clockwork Orange is set in a near-future dystopian society and it is narrated by Alex in 'nadsat', a slang used by the teens of the day. Nadsat incorporates elements of Russian and Cockney English. It provides a demanding read but makes the story so much more intense. It's disorientating at times, particularly when Alex is excited by something. This adds to the effect when reading the somewhat disturbing descriptions of the violent crimes the gang commit. I did find that once I'd gotten into the book, it was much easier to read and generally the slang terms could be worked out by the context. A few chapters in, I wasn't even really having to think about the previously unfamiliar words. Throughout the book I couldn't help relate Burgess' projected future (which I believe he had as the early 1970s) with current times. Although obviously not the same slang, it did remind me somewhat of listening to certain teens of today - being able to understand the general point but not necessarily the individual words.

I actually listened to the audio of this book along side reading the text version, mostly listening to a section and then reading it. This really helped with getting used to the language. The version I have is read by Phil Daniels who I felt was perfect for it in terms of voice and accent - factors I believe can make or break an audio book. The pace of the book was read at an immensely fast pace, as I'd expect a character such as Alex to speak if he were retelling the story aloud. I found that the audio gave me a more general sense of the story and the characters while reading the text allowed me to pick up the small details.

Alex's character was intriguing. We experience the story through Alex, his thoughts and feelings are all there on the page. While in no way a likeable character in terms of the acts he commits and his views on the world, Alex still draws in the reader. Throughout the book I couldn't help but hope that things would turn out right for him in the end, that he would turn things around.

A Clockwork Orange is a challenging yet unforgettable read.

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