A read like no other
Let’s make this clear – if you have an easily upset stomach you shouldn’t go near this novel. It’s not for you. Physical and sexual violence in all its variations dominate this book.
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess was published in 1963. It’s a horror novel documenting some of the adolescent life and incarceration of 15-year-old Alex, our “Humble Narrator”. He, like many others his age, is a gang member wreaking chaos in the night for the thrill of it. Battery, thievery, rape – nothing is too much for him and his ‘droogs’. The novel addresses the question of whether a person should be able to choose to be evil or should be forced to commit good acts, like a “clockwork orange”.
What makes this novel such a unique reading experience is Burgess’ genius understanding of how language works. In no way does he underestimate his readers. Alex is a ‘nadsat’ (a teenager) and what comes with his lifestyle is a new form of speech. A Clockwork Orange is written from Alex’s first-person perspective in English and nadsat slang, e.g. things like cigarettes are called ‘cancers’. When I first began reading, It was a really confusing experience, as I didn’t understand any of the nadsat slang, but with patience came understanding. Eventually I read the nadsat in the context of the sentence and guess what it meant, and slowly learnt that way. I felt silly after finishing this novel, not realising that there was a nadsat glossary at the end of the book. So you can either guess like I did while you read or constantly refer to the glossary. Reading A Clockwork Orange felt like learning a new language, and I felt a great sense of satisfaction when I started to catch on. This way of writing could be confusing at times, but not to the level of frustration you’d reach when reading modernist novels.
As I mentioned earlier, this is not a novel that shies away from wickedness. In my opinion, the violence was cushioned somewhat by the nadsat slang. A lot of the time, if something bad was happening, I’d instinctually guess what was going on rather than having it clearly described to me by Burgess in agonising detail. I didn’t enjoy the extreme violence, but what kept me reading was Burgess’ experimentalism with language.
I also really enjoyed the Burgess’ use of meta-fiction. Throughout the novel, Alex reminded you that you were reading his story, which makes some sections of the novel unnerving.
A Clockwork Orange is a short novel that really packs a punch. It’s the best thing I’ve read this year!