A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

I finished A Clockwork Orange. I feel changed. I reviewed it. Apparently I just make declarative statements now. Anyways. Go.

A Clockwork Orange is a dystopian story about a 15-year-old boy named Alex. He lives in England and spends most of his time with his droogies (friends) beating up his enemies, stealing shit, doing some ultra-violence, taking drugs, raping and listening to classical music. He’s a weird dude. He breaks into a house and accidentally kills an old woman, is caught and goes to jail, his friends getting away. After about two years in jail he is taken into this rehabilitation program where they change his neurological responses so he feels sick at the thought of sex and violence. So he can go back into society and be a good person. Or whatever.

By the way, this book has been out for 50-odd years, and the movie’s been out for almost 45, so… spoilers. Sorry.

It’s really just… wow. I’d seen the movie, a couple of times actually, because that’s definitely something you want to see a couple of times, it’s not disturbing at all. In the movie Alex is in his late twenties. At least, Malcolm McDowell was 28 when the movie came out. By the way, Malcolm McDowell is a fox. And for some reason it got creepier when Alex is 15. In the movie there’s a scene where Alex picks up a girl in a record store and they spend an afternoon having sex. As far as I remember it’s consensual, I might be misremembering. In the book the scene is that Alex picks up two 10-year-old girls in the record store, gets them drunk and rapes them, so it’s more grisly.

Still a fox.

It’s a very interesting look on youth. It was written just when Burgess moved back to Britain, and there had been this rise of youth culture. There were coffee shops, and music shops, and clubs, and there was a lot of fear of juvenile delinquency. The book was also inspired by his first wife being beaten by a gang of young servicemen, causing her to miscarry. There is a scene in the book where Alex and his gang go into a house, beat up a couple and all four of them rape the wife. She later dies because of this. It also seems like youth in this England has been given pretty free reign. They are expected to just become grown-ups, and not really be raised to be good people, they’re just expected to grow out of this stuff they do. And it seems like they do, it’s very ingrained in them that when they’re legally grown-ups, they just take responsibility, but it’s a slightly fucked up world. I say slightly, it's completely fucked up.

It’s also a fascinating look at free will. When Alex has been in jail for a couple of years he goes through a rehabilitation program where they drug him, strap him to a chair and force him to watch violent and sexual films. The drugs make him sick, and he’s not able to look away, he's physically strapped to his chair, so he gets conditioned to feel sick when he looks at violence, thinks of violence, or thinks of sex or rape. Eventually he can’t be violent, and has basically been stripped of his free will. He still wants to be violent, but he can’t. Hopefully you wouldn’t want to be violent after rehabilitation, and you would understand why you shouldn't be, but they’ve basically just taken away his ability to think for himself. Because Alex doesn’t really think that his violent and predatory thoughts are wrong, he just knows they make him sick. It’s really fascinating.

The book is written in slang, most of it. Alex and his friends use a slang called “nadsat.” It’s based around rhyming slang, Slavic words, and Russian words, and some of the words are also invented by Burgess himself. So there are words like horrorshow and ultra-violence, gulliver (head), chelloveck (man), so they’re from here, if you wondered. It’s a bit confusing at times. There was no translation key in my copy, so I just had to guess. I could have gone online and checked, but that seemed tedious. And you can guess what most of the words are out of context. For me I’m glad that I read a lot and I’m glad that I’m good at sort of rolling with it even though I don’t always know what’s going on. Because after a while you get into it and it seems natural. I’m impressed at how Burgess basically made his own language and managed to be consistent about it.

I really liked it, it was fascinating, and cool, and it made me uncomfortable and almost angry. And I want to watch the movie again, because why not.