A Clockwork Orange
By Anthony Burgess

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Rating: Brilliant!
4 Stars

First Published: 1962
Pages: 177 

Review © 2009 by Stephen Roof
Genre:  Science Fiction, Classic, New Wave



A Clockwork Orange is a modern science fiction classic that should not be missed.  Anthony Burgess describes a very dark and disturbing near future that is scary mostly because it seems so possible.  Young thugs and gangs run amok leaving a wake of violence.  The only thing more terrifying is the State and their way of dealing with criminals. 

As a writer, Burgess is wonderfully inventive and in A Clockwork Orange he goes so far as to invent his own futuristic British teen gang lingo called Nadsat which has lots of words derived from Russian as well as many transformed English words.  Initially, this mish mash lingo is quite challenging to understand but gradually the meanings can be determined due to the context in which they are used.   The paperback version I read included an Afterword and a Glossary of Nadsat with over 200 words by Stanley Hyman, a literary critic.  The glossary can be used to more quickly come up to speed on the lingo.  It’s not a necessity to use the glossary but it’s nice to have for those cases where the context isn’t immediately clear, especially for American readers. 

A Clockwork Orange is told from the first person viewpoint of a young teenage thug named Alex.   This viewpoint along with the futuristic street language and graphic violence is very effective at immersing the reader in a world where lawlessness is a way of life.  There is plenty of violence and sex but generally it’s not too graphic. 

When Alex gets a chance to experience the correctional system, he is chosen to participate in the latest experimental treatment program.  He goes through a special “conditioning” program aimed to turn him into a model citizen and the authorities hope to use him as a shining example of their progressive system.  What could go wrong?

A Clockwork Orange is one of the most unique books I’ve read.  It’s both action packed and has serious reflections on society.  There is lots of interesting psychology in this novel which was a big plus for me.  I rate it much higher than 1984 which is always listed as a classic example of a dystopian science fiction novel.  If you haven’t read A Clockwork Orange, you’re missing out.  It’s well worth the effort of dealing with the mish mash English/Russian gang slang that Burgess invented.  Go out and get a copy to read now! 

After reading the book, you should also check out the 1971 movie version of A Clockwork Orange with the same name from Stanley Kubrick.  It’s a terrific movie that's almost as good as the book.