Saturday, March 12, 2016

13. A Clockwork Orange

It's a March Madness Miracle! I said I'd post 3 reviews this week and, low and behold, this is my third review of the week. I guess I can do something when I set my mind to it.

I wish the reading was going a little bit better, but I can't really help that. Work and life just keep getting in the way, and I don't know how to change that any time soon. But I finished another book yesterday, am working hard on a second, and I have to get one done for book club on the 22nd, so I think I'll manage. It doesn't mean it'll be easy though.

But what I can do is blog about the books I've already finished. Today's book is probably the best one I've read since starting this project...and no doubt the toughest. If you're a regular reader of my blog, this won't come as a surprise to you.

Book 13 of Project 84 is...

A Clockwork Orange
A Clockwork Orange
By Anthony Burgess

(A warning before we get to far into the review: there is going to be a large portion of this review that contains spoilers for the book/movie. I have a certain aspect of the book I want to discuss, and I won't be able to do that without spoiling the ending. I will denote this portion of the review with a big, red spoiler alert. If it's important to you that the ending not be spoiled, I encourage you to read the book/see the movie and come back to the review. Thanks.)

Oh my God, I loved this book.

It shouldn't be that big of a surprise. I love the movie, and have since I was a teenager, but this book was a struggle for me to read.

First, a quick overview of the plot (this isn't the spoiler part). Our protagonist, Alex, is a teenage street tough in England in the near, dystopian future. He goes around with his friends (or "droogs") stealing, beating people up, raping women, and being all around horrible human beings. One night, Alex goes to far, and an old woman dies as he's robbing her house. As a result, he is sent to jail for 14 years. While there, he is told that he can enter into an experimental treatment program that will rid him of his violent impulses, and allow him to return home in 2 weeks (I believe the word "fortnight" was used. Who doesn't love a book that uses the word "fortnight"?).

I know it sounds like a simple plot, but what makes it difficult is Alex's first person narration. He uses the language and dialect of his peer group...a sort of mesh of rhyming slang, gypsy talk, and Slavic language. It is incredibly difficult to follow. It took me 10 pages before I was searching for a dictionary (which I ultimately found here). With the dictionary, I was able to follow the narrative, but it was slow going. If I never hear the word "malchick" again, it'll be a moment too soon.

But if you can get past the complicated's truly a fascinating, complicated book that I couldn't help but fall into.


Alright, now we get to the good stuff. I assume if you got this far, you know how at least the movie ended. Alex gets out of the treatment program, and though sickened by the thought of violence, feels like a complete shell of his former self. After falling in with a man whose wife he once assaulted, Alex is tortured to the point of jumping out a window. The impact of the fall jars his brain and reverses the treatment, allowing Alex to return to a life of crime.
As he puts it in the last line of the book:
"I was cured alright." - Page 199
But is it the last line of the book? Here's where things get complicated...

There is actually another chapter after this one. In other words, there's a completely different ending from the way Kubrick decided to end his movie. In the last chapter - chapter 7 - an older Alex begins to see the error of his violent, childish ways. Longing for a wife and family, he chooses to put "childish things" (in his case, horrible violence) away and, for lack of a better word, grow up. This chapter ends on a slightly more positive note:
"But you, O my brothers, remember sometimes thy little Alex that was. Amen. And all that cal (shit)." - Page 212
Here's my dilemma: these are two completely different books. In the one that ends on page 199 - the one which I'll call the Kubrick version - the book is an indictment of the idea of reforming criminal behavior. It touts the importance of free will and self reliance, and shows the error of trying to force someone into a box we've created for them. It's dark, and poetic, and sad.

In the one that ends on page 212 - the real version - the book becomes somewhat of a coming of age tale. It's more of an allegory about growing up and finding ways to put the mistakes of our youth behind us. It's about how we learn to really be ourselves.

Evidently, what happened was that when Burgess tried to publish his wildly popular book in the United States, the US publisher said the only way that it would sell is if it ended on the dark Chapter 6. Apparently, the metanoia of Chapter 7 wasn't compelling for US audiences (Kubrick called it "inconsistent" with the rest of the narrative). The full version wasn't published til 1986.

So there's my dilemma. What's one to do?! I think the Kubrick version is more powerful and jarring, though the real version is more psychically satisfying. I think I need to find a way to reconcile both in my head. They both fascinate me in their own, unique ways, but they evoke completely different emotions. So what's a girl to do?

It's also possible that the two endings make it a better book, and one that will stick with me longer. That's a thought.


The answer is unequivocally YES, you should read this book. Find a Nadsat dictionary, curl up on the couch, and prepare to be blown away. It's disturbing, it's dark, it's bleak, and it's just an incredible piece of literature. Please read this book.

So, there you have it! My favorite book of Project 84 so far. But I do have lots more to go - 71 books, to be exact - so we'll see if it stays number one for the rest of the year!

I will have a Sunday Update up tomorrow, so you can see what's to come for the rest of the week. Until then, I'll bid you farewell, dear readers. Have a great Saturday night!

**All page numbers and annotations refer to this version of A Clockwork Orange, published by W.W. Norton & Company n 1995**

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