A Clockwork Orange – Review

I’ve wanted to read A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess for a few years now, but I knew vaguely what it was about and have seen clips of the film on telly which all led me to think I wouldn’t be able to handle it. I get very affected by what I read, and whilst I am very interested in fiction that looks at the history of mental health treatment, I also don’t want to end up upsetting myself too much. I finally bought it a couple of weeks ago because I had nothing else to read.

I did enjoy the book, but it’s the first book I’ve ever read the introduction for before I read the book. I never read introductions for fiction, ever. I read the first chapter or so of A Clockwork Orange and I was genuinely struggling to understand what was going on, and I wasn’t connecting to it properly, so I read the introduction to see if it would help. It did, but it is full of spoilers and kind of told me the entire skeleton of the plot which killed some things for me I guess. The biggest trouble I had with A Clockwork Orange is the made-up teen slang ‘Nadsat’ that the narrator uses. Burgess made up around 200 words for this language which is often based on Russian words that he anglicizes. He studied linguistics you see. I thought it was clever, and now I have committed to memory lots of Nadsat words after reading the whole book, but this was a barrier for me to connecting with the main character, Alex. When I find a style of writing difficult, I never connect too well to the characters and the plot. This is the main reason I don’t really enjoy reading ‘old’ fiction, or Shakespeare etc.

The book should definitely carry trigger warnings – rape, sexual assault, violence, manslaughter, police brutality, blood, substance misuse, probably other things too. However I feel that the use of Nadsat disconnected me somewhat to those horrific events, so I did not feel them as intensely as I would normally when reading. For me this was kind of a good thing though, as it meant I could read the book properly without feeling seriously shaken up and without bursts of tears as I constantly felt a distance between myself and the story.

The story is super didactic, Burgess even once said it was too didactic to be of any artistic merit (or something along those lines). I disagree with that, but I do see where he was coming from. I think the book raises some important questions about free will, particularly with regards to the Christian conception of it, as well as human nature in general, and has a very interesting way of presenting authority and political groups. It’s the first and as of yet only dystopian story I’ve ever read and I did actually enjoy the genre and all that goes along with it so I am intending to read more dystopian stuff in the future.

Would recommend if:

– You’re a proficient reader. If you’re not, you might find it challenging because of the Nadsat.

– You won’t get hysterical reading about descriptions of horrific acts of violence including rape and GBH.

– You like dystopian novels.

– You are interested in the politics of free will and authority systems.

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