BkFt: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

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A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess was published in 1962 and is one of the most famous dystopian novels.  It is about a future society in which juvenile delinquency has taken over.  This book is high up on my TBR list and I’m sure many of you have read this book.  Richard Lacayo from TIME describes the novel:A Clockwork Orange

Like 1984, this is a book in which an entire social order is implied through language. And what language! To hint at the vile universe of the 15-year-old delinquent Alex and his murderous buddies, Burgess created “nadsat,” a rich futuristic patois. “Sinny” for “cinema.” “Viddy” for “see,” “horrorshow” for “good” — from the Russian, khorosho, which gives you some idea of which political system has prevailed. The words locate him in a world of corrupted values, violence and boundless infantile indulgence. (His drug is “milk plus.”) When Alex is apprehended by the authorities and subjected to psychological conditioning to make him nauseated at any impulse towards violence, Burgess’s book becomes a meditation on whether a world in which evil can be freely chosen might still be preferable to one in which goodness is compelled. Stanley Kubrick’s coldly magnificent “sinny” adaptation has sometimes threatened to overshadow this great novel. Don’t let it happen.

There’s a lot of discussion about the title of the novel and where it comes from.  All I can say for sure is that apparently Burgess overheard the phrase “as queer as a clockwork orange” in a pub in London in 1945.  According to the author’s article A Clockwork Condition in the New Yorker: “It’s an old Cockney slang phrase, implying a queerness or madness so extreme as to subvert nature.” Some, like Kingsley Amis, disagree.

Another interesting detail of this novel is the way it is divided.  The book is split into 3 parts each with 7 chapters which brings the total number of chapters to 21.  This detail was Burgess’ intentional nod to the age of 21 being recognised as a milestone in human maturation. (wikipedia)  Strangely, the final 21st chapter was omitted in American editions of the book as it was deemed unrealistic for the American audience.  I find this a tad strange as the final chapter 21 is the redeeming chapter wherein Alex realises the error of his ways and turns away from violence.

A book fit to sit along side other great dystopian novels such as Orwell’s 1984 or Huxley’s A Brave New World.  I’ll leave you with a paragraph I particularly like from the above mentioned article A Clockwork Condition:

“The maintenance of a complex society depends increasingly on routine work, work with no zest or creativity. One of the slogans of George Orwell’s superstate in “1984” is “Freedom is slavery.” This can be taken to mean that the burden of making one’s own choices is, for many people, intolerable. Perhaps there is something to be said for conformity in social life when our working lives have so little room for rugged individualism. But when patterns of conformity are imposed by the state, then one has a right to be frightened. It is significant that the nightmare books of our age have not been about new Draculas and Frankensteins but about what may be termed dystopias—inverted utopias, in which an imagined megalithic government brings human life to an exquisite pitch of misery.”

Share your thoughts with us about this book.

All TIME 100 Novels – A Clockwork Orange


2 thoughts on “BkFt: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

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  1. Somewhere in my personal library sits A Clockwork Orange – I’ve had it for years. Tried reading it once or twice (tried, being the operative word). Now you have me curious as to whether or not there is a Chapter 21 in my edition. I’ll probably spend the better part of today looking for it. Maybe it’s time I give it another go.


    1. Wonderful! Sounds like it was a great day, did you find the book? And more importantly, does it have chapter 21? 🙂 I’m really glad the post may have inspired another attempt at reading Clockwork Orange.


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