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April 16, 2018 | by  | in Arts Books |
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A Clockwork Orange


Each month, the Salient books team are going to review the books on the program for the Vic Books 2018 Book Club. The second book on this list is the 1962 dark dystopian satire A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess.

The novel is set in England in a dystopian future and follows Alex (not me I promise!), a teen delinquent who drinks, fights, steals, and kills with his gang of thugs, but is then is caught and sent to prison where he undergoes a new alternative treatment to reform his wicked ways.

It is quite serendipitous that this review coincided with the “Taboo” issue, as its depiction of extreme violence has made A Clockwork Orange a controversial novel since its publication. It has been so controversial that it was banned in some places in America and Britain in the 1970s, even resulting in some cases of booksellers being arrested for stocking it.

But that reaction is arguably the very point Burgess is trying to make. He challenged the idea of taboos in society, and pushed the boundaries of what is deemed appropriate for production and consumption in literature and popular culture when it comes to these controversial topics such as youth, sex, addiction, crime, justice, morals, and politics.

The novel is written in an interesting style, as it uses an invented language, Nadsat, which is a hybrid of Russian, medieval English, childhood phrases, and rhyming slang that Burgess created for all of the teenage characters to speak in. From the outset, it feels nonsensical and comical, but within a matter of pages you’re fluent. As a reader, you’re fully immersed in the narrative, as you are constantly thinking and translating what is on the page in front of you.

But this immersion into the language and culture of Alex and his droogs (friends) means full immersion into their extremely violent rampages, called the “ultra-violence”. The reader is referenced as “my brothers” and you’re drawn in even further into the world that you often feel like the fifth member of the gang. This absorption into the story meant there were moments when reading this book where I wanted to be sick, as I felt like I was in the room with them. But because it could generate this type of physical response, I respected and enjoyed the novel even more.

I was, and still am, still challenged by the events in the novel for its confronting amplification of violence, but I believe Burgess requires this from us. We need to be confronted and shocked by the book in order to then separate ourselves from this fictional world to see his satire at work. We are shocked at the violence on a surface level, but then shocked that this violence is, or could be, ringing true to our lives already.

A Clockwork Orange is a novel that absolutely surprised me, as I did not expect to enjoy it as much as I did. This book is strange and completely batshit crazy, but incredibly fascinating and compelling. I loved it from the very first page.

So grab your horrowshow droogs, get a shlapa for your litso, put on some white platties, get a glass of moloko, put on a Ludwig Van album, and check this book out.

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