Book Reviews

A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess Book Review

I wanted to read “A Clockwork Orange” ever since I saw the Stanley Kubrick’s Movie from 1971. Who said that a book book cannot start with a glass of milk?

Anthony Burgess confesses in the prelude to his book that he hoped that it would have been erased from the collective mind by now and the fact that it still lingers is attributed mostly to the most ingenious way Mr. Kubrick presented it.

I should myself be glad to disown it for various reasons, but this is not permitted. – Anthony Burgess 

When asked about what the title of the book means, he responds in a very cryptic manner:

Clockwork oranges don’t exist, except in the speech of old Londoners. The image was a bizarre one, always used for a bizarre thing. “He’s as queer as a clockwork orange” meant he was queer to the limit of queerness – Anthony Burgess 

I’ve heard about the book but refused to read it for the longest of times. I had this notion (from the movie and also from online forums) that the book would be filled with heinous acts of violence, atrocities beyond description and would leave you shaking for days afterwards. After I finished the notorious American Psycho * Bret Easton Ellis, I decided that maybe, perhaps maybe, I was strong enough to withstand this classic. The book surprised me in that sense as it does not glorify violence, nor is it a book about violence per se. Rather it’s an exploration of the morality of free will. Of whether it is better to choose to be bad than to be conditioned to be good. Of alienation and how to deal with the excesses to which such alienation may lead. And ultimately, of one man’s decision to say goodbye to all that.

 

He looked a malenky bit poogly when he viddied the four of us like that, coming up so quiet and polite and smiling, but he said: ‘Yes? What is it?’ in a very loud teacher-type goloss, as if he was trying to show us he wasn’t poogly. I said:

‘I see you have books under your arm, brother. It is indeed a rare pleasure these days to come across somebody that still reads, brother.’

‘Oh,’ he said, all shaky. ‘Is it? Oh, I see.’ And he kept looking from one to the other of we four, finding himself now like in the middle of a very smiling and polite square.

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘It would interest me greatly, brother, if you would kindly allow me to see what books those are that you have under your arm.

What happens in that twenty-first chapter? You now have the chance to find out. Briefly, my young thuggish protagonist grows up. He grows bored with violence and recognises that human energy is better expended on creation than destruction. Senseless violence is a prerogative of youth, which has much energy but little talent for the constructive. Its dynamism has to find an outlet in smashing telephone kiosks, derailing trains, stealing cars and smashing them and, of course, in the much more satisfactory activity of destroying human beings. There comes a time, however, when violence is seen as juvenile and boring. It is the repartee of the stupid and ignorant. My young hoodlum comes to the revelation of the need to get something done in life—to marry, to beget children, to keep the orange of the world turning in the rookers of Bog, or hands of God, and perhaps even create something—music, say.

About the author:

Anthony Burgess has been called one of the very few literary geniuses of our time. Certainly he borrowed from no other literary source than himself. That source produced thirty-two novels, a volume of verse, two plays, and sixteen works of nonfiction—together with countless musical compositions, including symphonies, operas, and jazz. His most recent work was A Mouthful of Air: Language, Languages . . . Especially English. Anthony Burgess died in 1993.

 

… a human being is endowed with free will. He can use this to choose between good and evil. If he can only perform good or only perform evil, then he is a clockwork orange—meaning that he has the appearance of an organism lovely with colour and juice but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil or (since this is increasingly replacing both) the Almighty State. It is as inhuman to be totally good as it is to be totally evil. The important thing is moral choice. Evil has to exist along with good, in order that moral choice may operate. Anthony Burgess