The first time I attempted to read A Clockwork Orange I was much a much younger veck and having already viddied the film more than a few times, O my brothers, I quickly grew impatient with the writing style and lost any shilarny in finishing it given I already knew the ending, or so I thought.
Viddy what I did there? The whole story is like that and then some, made up words all over the place, Nadsat (Russian for teen) slang is what it’s referred to and the original copy I had at the time included a glossary of terms in the back. You can find glossaries online now, God bless the internet. If your mind is not right the liberal use of this slang makes for a cumbersome read. If you relax your brain a little, however, and just let it roll you start to pick up on it and it just starts to make sense. In the context, you know what the narrator is talking about.
Alex, the narrator is a charismatic, 15-year-old punk obsessed with classical music, rape, and “ultra-violence” who leads a small gang of thugs referred to as droogs on various crime sprees. Alex ends up being arrested, institutionalized and ultimately volunteers for experimental rehabilitation via a new controversial psychological conditioning process.
A Clockwork Orange was written by Anthony Burgess in 1962 but if you Google the title without the author’s name, the 1971 Stanley Kubrick film based closely on the book is the first listing. At the time it was met with both acclaim and controversy. Roger Ebert hated it stating:
“A Clockwork Orange” is an ideological mess, a paranoid right-wing fantasy masquerading as an Orwellian warning. It pretends to oppose the police state and forced mind control, but all it really does is celebrate the nastiness of its hero, Alex.”
The film, despite the controversial nature and having been released with an X rating, was nominated for Best Picture and three other Oscars, including Best Director for Kubrick and Best Adapted Screenplay for his script (none of which were awarded) yet Burgess never received more than the $500 he was originally paid for the rights to the story.
Regardless of what the critics say, I highly recommend you see the film. It’s aged well and is still a good one to watch to this day. But read the book too either before or after. I think had I read the book before I saw the film I might have been annoyed by the film’s ending so I’m glad things worked out the way they did.
Like I said, I’d seen the film more than a few times before I got around to another attempt at reading the book again. I’d never really done any research or reading about the film so I only knew what I saw and had my own conclusions. This time around I read the book in less than a week, the second half of it on and off over the course of a day as I was eager to get to the original ending.
I now have a better understanding of what the author originally intended with the story, obviously. But this also stems from the fact that at the time, the U.S. publisher axed the last chapter to make it more marketable in the United States and that version of the book is what Kubrick based the film on. So all this time, I was seeing a film based on an incomplete story. The book was re-released in the United States in 1995 and includes the original final chapter which leaves you with a completely different understanding of Alex’s evolution throughout the narrative. Regardless of which end you know, the main theme remains which is that when made to behave mechanical and without free will, a man is a clockwork orange.
If he can only perform good or only perform evil, then he is a clockwork orange—meaning that he has the appearance of an organism lovely with colour and juice but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil.”
It never dawned on me that the term wasn’t simply an odd name for an odd film as Kubruck intentionally excluded any reference to it leaving the viewer to come to their own conclusions or drive them to read the novel in search for answers. I honestly never gave it much thought. According to Burgess it’s an old Cockney slang phrase, implying a queerness or madness so extreme as to subvert nature and is referenced a number of times in the book to support the theme and choices made by Alex throughout.
In the end I gave this book 4 out 5 stars on my Goodreads account mainly because of the Nasdat slang littered heavily throughout. I was always on the fence about it. I often found it to be annoying and obstacle like, but also feel in retrospect that the grahzny sodding veshches that came out of the author’s gulliver throughout the story just wouldn’t have had the same impact without it.