A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
January has flown by, filled with all sorts of fun. In the first month of the year, I spent time in the United States, Malaysia (of course!) and Thailand, and have booked a trip to Australia for next week. My passport definitely loves that start to the year, but it isn’t the only book that’s gotten a bit of wear and tear in the last thirty-one days. Kicking off In Search of the End of the Sidewalk’s 2016 Book Challenge, I hit the ground running, finishing eleven books, including A Clockwork Orange, this month’s challenge book. A Clockwork Orange could have checked off several of the boxes on this year’s list, including “a book you can finish in a day” as it is only 150 pages long, and “a book you’ve been meaning to read” as I’ve been obsessed with it for a while now, and yet never seemed to get to it. “A book you should have read in school” would also have been a fitting category, as I somehow made it through high school without being assigned it in class (not surprising, as we didn’t read much that would be considered controversial), through an undergraduate degree in literature (at BYU, so also not surprising) and a graduate degree in literature (focused mainly on travelogues, so I guess, again not out of the realm of likelihood). How have books been such a part of my life for so long and this one didn’t pop up on the radar though?
Nevertheless, this year’s reading challenge finally pushed me into buying a copy and burying myself it in over the course of a day or two. I was hooked instantly, intrigued both by the slang and the narrative itself. Mostly, I was amazed at how Burgess was able to cloak such ultra-violence in language less recognizable to readers. Had he used common English to describe the brutal scenes that make up a good deal of the narrative, his book wouldn’t have been banned in some libraries, but all of them. It is startlingly violent, and yet the viciousness is softened by argot that dampens the blows of such brutality. I found this aspect of the novel fascinating, how word choice makes all the difference.
The other fascinating part about this novella was the final chapter. When the book was first published in the US, the American publishers made Burgess drop the last chapter, believing it ended better for the American audience after the twentieth chapter. When the book was republished later on, this final chapter was once again included, as it had always been in British copies. Once I realized this, there was nothing to do but go back and read the final few chapters, stopping before that last one, giving a new “ending” to the book. The last chapter does incredibly change the whole feel of the narrative. Without it, the book ends with Alex still living a life fueled by ultra-violence and without many thoughts beyond his own entertainment, whereas the ending, as intended by Burgess, puts Alex in a different place in his life. (No spoilers!) I’m not sure which I prefer, but suppose deferring to the author and his vision is the best call, even though it radically changes Alex as a character.
A Clockwork Orange is definitely not for everyone and won’t be one of the books I widely gift at birthdays throughout the year, but I enjoyed it and loved the idea of language and how it impacts a reader. (I tend to find a favorite and send it to multiple people each year. Last year lots of folks got Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon and the year before was The Martian by Andy Weir- pre-movie, of course.) This was a great start to In Search of the End of the Sidewalk’s 2016 Book Challenge!
In Search of the End of the Sidewalk’s 2016 Reading Challenge
_____ A book published this year
_____A book you can finish in a day
_____A book you’ve been meaning to read
_____ A book recommended to you by a librarian
_____ A book you should have read in school
_____ A book chosen for you by your spouse/partner, best friend, child or sibling
_____ A book published before you were born
_____ A book that was banned at some point
_____ A book you abandoned previously
_____ A book you own but have never read
_____ A book that intimidates you
_____ A book you’ve read at least once