Thursday, 26 May 2011

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess


"What's it going to be then, eh?" 

O, my brothers, I  viddy that A Clockwork Orange is a real horror-show! Having seen the wonderful Kubrick film adaptation a few years ago and finally getting around to reading the actual novel now, I have to give the upper-edge to the latter. Despite the controversial history of both works, the novel still managed to exceed my expectations in every conceivable way and is easily one of the best pieces of literature that I have ever read. Burgess is a master of linguistics and many languages; plenty of scholarly attention devoted to his unique style of writing and for good reason. The implementation of a "nadsat" language used by the protagonist and first-person narrator Alex is fascinating in its vernacular; allowing Burgess to creatively play around with diction and syntax. Perhaps a little confusing at first but it is easy enough to pick up as the novel progresses.

Free will and morality are the key themes and even though Burgess is didactic in his approach, the social, political and religious ideologies remain powerful in their convictions. Despite blurring the lines between a futuristic dystopia and contemporary society (although Kubrick's version leans more towards the former), I would be hard-pressed to label the novel strictly as science fiction. An aesthetic tour-de-force that is at times both disturbing and funny, Burgess effectively uses irony in a humorous way but also as a narrative strategy to express the inherent contradictions of Alex's actions and the novel's thematic concerns. Burgess poses an important question that the novel will attempt to explore: "Is it better for a man to have chosen evil than to have good imposed upon him?" By the end, the answer is made vividly clear as Burgess stresses the importance of free will and provides a cautionary tale of the dire consequences when a totalitarian state is capable of taking it away.

The most surprising aspect of the novel is that there resides an emotionally resonant coming-of-age story at the core of the story, further reflecting Burgess' uncanny writing abilities to generate empathy towards such a vile protagonist. Alex is malicious as much as he is witty and alluring. His transformation from a violent rebellious youth  to a guinea pig of government experimentation to cure him of his wicked ways is terrifying in its potential implications. On the one hand, the crime rate will drop exponentially as prisoners under special rehabilitation treatment but when they are released they will cease to be human; nothing more than a mechanical drone without a shred of free will: A clockwork orange. Entertaining as much as it is thought-provoking, this novel has lost none of its power or social relevance.



Read from May 24 to 26, 2011

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