Book Review: A Clockwork Orange

In a word: brilliant.

The book is rather short compared to most novels, but what it lacks in length it makes up for imagination and stunning detail. This book inspired the controversial film of the same name directed by Stanley Kuprick (go watch Full Metal Jacket, The Shinning, 2001: A Space Oddessy) so if you’ve seen the movie you know the basics of the plot, but you were unfortunately stripped of the final chapter, which Kuprick decided not to include in his adaptation. Therefore, I recommend that you read this book whether you’ve seen the movie or not..

This is a 1st person narrative told by a young man named Alex, of age 15, who is part of a youth gang in a distopian britian. The first thing anyone who read this book would notice is that the narration is done in a language that barely resembles english. It’s actually a slang language used by the youth of the time. This actually makes it difficult to get into the book, as you’re constantly trying to figure out exactly what the words mean, but, as the introduction to the book states, those who are able to persevere beyond the first couple paragraphs will never forget the experience.

In his gang, Alex and his friends cause mayhem: thieving, mugging, fighting, raping, and all other manner of horrible things a gang can do in the dark of the night. And even more he ENJOYS it. He decribes in detail the blood and horror that he and his gang inflict on the innocent. Then Alex and his friends go home and wake up and head to school like good little boys.

The gang eventually becomes fed-up with Alex’s self-proclaimed leadership. In mutinous fashion, they leave him high and dry during a robbery/beating/murder and Alex is sent to jail. Alex wants nothing more to get out of jail as soon as possible, and eventually learns of a treatment that could he could be subjected to, which will shorten his sentence from 15 years to 2 weeks. Alex signs up for this treatment ASAP with no prior knowledge of what it entails.

The treatment, designed to turn a ‘bad’ person ‘good,’ is administered by Dr. Brodsky and his team. This requires injecting the patient with a liquid that makes them feel absolutely horrible, and then showing them videos of terrible things like murdering, raping, burning, etc. Eventually the person learns to associate the things society hates (and alex LOVED) with the pain and sickness that he experience during the treatment, thereby, ‘curing’ him of his wicked ways. And how it works! Alex is sent out into the world a changed man, and can no longer even THINK of acting the way he used to without fear of vomiting and pain.

There is much more of the book to read after this, but i would rather let it be discovered by itself. In the end the major theme of the book can be captured in the question: is it better to be forced to be good, rather than choosing to be bad? The main character, although acting like a model citizen, no longer possess the basic right of all humans: free will. He cannot choose to be who he wants. He is not a free man when he walks out of that prison at all. But is that a bad thing? I don’t know, but it’s interesting to think about.

I definitely recommend this book. It’s challenging in its reading, interesting in its themes, and a warning of the possible extremes of government control.