Anthony Burgess – A Clockwork Orange

14Apr09


O my brothers, this book is real horrorshow. You must have slooshied about it, and in my opinion, it’s a must read. Apologies for the nadsat, i.e. teenage Russian slang, but I think this is partly responsible for making this book just as good as it is (and I really can’t rate it high enough). Initially, the book is challenging to read. The language is full of slang, that takes some time to get accustomed to. I was confused and felt that I really needed a dictionary (or, the book needed a glossary) to make some sense out of this book. However, within a couple of chapters, the slang started to make sense, and I just couldn’t stop reading it, to see how it ends.

The book revolves around Alex, who is fifteen when the book starts. The opening scene seems innocent enough – Alex and his three droogs are hanging out in a milkbar (where the drinks are laced with drugs), one evening. Once they leave the milkbar though, we get introduced to the violent streak in these four teenagers. They decide to beat up a man leaving a library, just for the sake of it; get into a bloody fight with a rival gang; steal a car; enter some random home of a couple – beat the husband up, and gang rape the wife. And if that’s not bad enough, they then tolchock the car into the river below. Real nasty stuff, and that point, you can’t help but feeling that the four teenagers are despicable and deserve severe punishment.

Later on that evening, we get a glimpse of another side of Alex, the gang privodevat, as he goes home, and in total darkness listens to some classical music. That’s when we discover his unequivocal love for Beethoven, and some other classical geniuses. Who knew their crime-minded malchicks appreciate music as much as they do violence?

When the gang decides to overthrow Alex as their leader, and get George, one of the droogs to replace him, Alex challenges George to a fight, which he wins, thereby retaining his title. That night, they decide to get up to some serious mischief, and rob a rich woman. However, things don’t quite go according to plan, and Alex’s violence costs the woman her life. The three droogs abandon Alex there, letting him take the fall for it while they run away… and Alex is charged with murder.

Good riddance, you say? A boy like that deserves no better? Well, read on…

Alex spends two years in jail, where he shares a small cell with some other inmates. When a new inmate is brought to their cell, and starts throwing his weight around, Alex, with the help of the other inmates, end up killing him (accidentally). As things normally pan out, the other prisoners deny responsibility, and Alex takes the fall. He volunteers for the Ludovico Technique, a procedure that is supposed to change the criminal mind, to that of a peace-loving citizen, in just two weeks. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?

This technique is essentially conditional programming/aversion therapy. Alex is forced to watch videos of gruesome violence, and is injected with some nauseating medicine simultaneously. The idea is, every time the subject (in this case, Alex) thinks of violence, he ends up feeling nauseous. However, Alex is never told what the treatment actually entails, and he assumes it’s something nice and easy, that gets him out of prison in two weeks – the only reason why he volunteers.

When Alex goes back to life outside prison, he is not prepared for what greets him, and you can’t help but feel sorry for the boy, as he tries to figure things out. Stripped off everything, even his greatest love, we see a struggle, and we’re forced to ask some serious ethical questions: Are treatments like the Ludovico Technique justified? If someone shows a violent streak, is the government entitled to brainwash them? And what if the primary reason to get people undergo this treatment is that the prisons just don’t have enough space to hold all the convicts? Do two wrongs make a right? Does the end justify means? Do the means justify the end?

This dystopian novel is incredibly well-written. I don’t think the reader is supposed to relate to Alex. While Alex’s description of Beethoven’s music might just be one of the most beautiful things I’ve read in literature, his violent streak and some of the criminal acts he’s conducted might be the most horrific. As I flipped the last page of the book, I couldn’t help but admire Alex just a tad, and I also regretted that the book was over. Definitely one of the most thought-provoking books I’ve read in recent times.

Dare I say, a 10 on 10?

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