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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

A Clockwork Orange (1962) by Anthony Burgess

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Still from the Stanley Kubrick movie version of  A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Book Review
A Clockwork Orange (1962)
by Anthony Burgess

  The cocktail party banter to know about A Clockwork Orange is that 1) Anthony Burgess HATED A Clockwork Orange even though it proved to be his single canonical novel in a career that would otherwise be considered second-tier. 2) There are two different versions of A Clockwork Orange- a UK version with an additional chapter where Alex gives up his youthful life of Ultra-violence, and a US version where that chapter is omitted, leaving the reader to think that Alex is unreformed.

 It is this issue that Burgess addresses on the very good Audiobook edition of A Clockwork Orange- which includes the final chapter. He also uses his introduction to castigate the Stanley Kubrick movie, which adheres to the American version, and leaves Alex unredeemed, so to speak.  Burgess has repeatedly claimed that he dashed off A Clockwork Orange for a bit of cash, and it turned into his enduring legacy.

  A Clockwork Orange is also a classic example of a book having it's canonical status secured by the success of a film.  Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, despite Burgess' dislike, did more to crystalize a dystopian aesthetic in the mass media than any other single work except perhaps the first Bladerunner.   A Clockwork Orange demonstrates that whatever their other respective strengths and weaknesses, film is best for cementing a visual aesthetic in the mind of a mass audience.

    Burgess is largely remembered as a comic writer, and here the comic element is his clever invention of a Russian influenced slang he calls navsat.  The linguistic element of A Clockwork Orange, with Alex addressing his "droogies" and talking about "devotchka's" and "babushka's" is fun for its own sake, much in the way you enjoy the writing in Lolita by Nabokov. 

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