A Clockwork Orange–the book

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess is a dystopian novel published in 1962. Burgess set the novel in the future, but not all that far into the future. He claims that he wrote the novel in three weeks. Wow, three weeks. I wish I could do that. Maybe that will be a challenge I set for myself in the near future.

Back to the novel. Here’s the Goodreads synopsis:

A vicious fifteen-year-old “droog” is the central character of this 1963 classic, whose stark terror was captured in Stanley Kubrick’s magnificent film of the same title. In Anthony Burgess’s nightmare vision of the future, where criminals take over after dark, the story is told by the central character, Alex, who talks in a brutal invented slang that brilliantly renders his and his friends’ social pathology. A Clockwork Orange is a frightening fable about good and evil, and the meaning of human freedom. When the state undertakes to reform Alex—to “redeem” him—the novel asks, “At what cost?”

Yesterday I wrote my review of the movie, A Clockwork Orange, which I watched before reading the novel. The movie disturbed me, but other than left it left me feeling unsure about what I thought of it. After watching it I was extremely curious to read Burgess’s novel to see if I felt the same way.

It turned out to be a good thing that I watched the movie first since it helped me settle into the writing. The author experimented with language and many of the words are Russian-influenced argot called “Nadsat”. Burgess invented Nadsat. He mixed Slavic words, rhyming slang, and Russian. He also made up some words. The first few pages made me cringe. I had no idea what Alex was talking about. Soon I started to follow it and viewing the movie first helped immensely.

I actually enjoyed reading the novel, which shocked the heck out of me. I expected to hate it. There are some disturbing scenes and for the most part Kubrick stayed true to the book. However, the author’s words and tone resonated with me.

From this point on there will be spoilers for the movie and novel. If you don’t want to know, please stop reading.

What I found interesting was that the book’s ending was completely different. Then I did some digging. The first American edition of the novel didn’t include the final chapter since the American publisher wanted to remove the redeeming bit and have the novel end on a more sinister note. The publisher thought it would appeal more to an American audience. Kubrick based his movie on the American edition claiming he didn’t know about the missing chapter until the screenplay was almost complete. When I watched the final scene in the movie I was surprised and wondered if I missed the ending. Did I accidentally nod off? Then I read the novel and thought that it made more sense.

Again, I don’t feel like I can recommend the novel. I said the same thing about the movie. Both have violence and disturbing scenes. People should decide for themselves if they want to read or watch A Clockwork Orange. This is the 79th book I’ve read from the 1001 list. The next review will be In Cold Blood.

About TBM

TB Markinson is an American living in England. When she isn’t writing, she’s traveling the world, watching sports on the telly, visiting pubs, or reading. Not necessarily in that order.
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40 Responses to A Clockwork Orange–the book

  1. Ok, so which would you say you liked better – the movie or the book? Most of the time I like the book better, and for a complex story I am usually happy to have read the book first because it helps me to understand the movie more. For you, in this case, the movie helped you to understand the book more right?

    • TBM says:

      The movie helped me understand the book more and I liked the book more. This story isn’t that complex, but the writing can be tough going at first. The movie helped me click with the language almost from the start.

      • I can see that helping. I was trying to think of an example of what I was mentioning, and I finally got it – Game of Thrones! The world is so complex, and there are so many diverse characters and relationships that having read the book first made everything click into place when I started watching it on TV. You just get so many more details in the book.

      • TBM says:

        That’s usually why I like books more. I like seeing inside the minds of the characters and understand what’s going on. Dang it. That reminds me that I need to start Game of thrones.

      • Yes, you do :). It’s a truly amazing series. I am waiting for book 5 to come out in the trade paperback version, so that mine will all be the same. You know me with my organizing LMAO!!

      • TBM says:

        I didn’t know it reached that deep. The same trade paperback version. That must be hard to do with some of the older series.

      • I have many series where some are in hardcover and some are in paperback, but I got into Game of Thrones relatively late, so I am hoping to get them all in similar formats. It just looks better on my organized bookshelves that way :). LOL!!!

      • TBM says:

        Is there an author that you always rush out to buy the hardcover on the first day?

      • Oh yes, quite a few actually – Deborah Harkness, Diana Gabaldon, Dan Brown, Ken Follett, Stephen King, Jean Auel, Philippa Gregory, Khal Hosseini (new to his stuff), Susannah Kearsley (just found her), George R.R. Martin (I definitely would if I didn’t have most of them in paperback already), to name just a few. Plus there are quite a few teen fiction authors that I will buy right away too like, Cassandra Clare, Lauren Kate, Margaret Stohl, Veronica Roth, Suzanne Collins, and Leigh Bardugo. I guess that’s why my phyical book collection now totals 686!!

      • TBM says:

        You are an author’s dream reader. Love all the different genres.

      • Well, they do say that variety is the spice of life :).

      • TBM says:

        Funny, I think I said that phrase sometime yesterday.

  2. Don’t think I will be doing the book either.. 🙂 That is why it is nice to have your reviews!

  3. waxnwings says:

    I watched the film quite young (about ten or twelve) as my dad rented it out remembering it was ‘a good film’. What he forgot (surprisingly) was its disturbingly violent theme, but I’m glad he let me watch it through or I probably would have just approached the film with over-expectations when watching it as an adult, as often tends to happen with ‘cult’ classics.

    Reading the book was a great experience. And I say ‘experience’ as it is much more a sensually orientated piece of fiction rather than plot-driven. The language forces a feeling of constant unnerving, almost isolating you and evoking the vulnerability of the outsider which works brilliantly well. For the modest size of the book itself, it’s probably the smallest jar of treacle I’ve waded through in a long time. I also found the preface’s to be extremely insightful r.e. the ending cut out from the film and Burgess’ inspiration for the language.

    It’s interesting to note as well that he originally wanted to use the slang of the 1960s youth, but realised that it would not be long before the language itself would become outmoded and give the book an undesirable archaic feel, almost ‘crippling’ it in the 60s, so to speak. By choosing Slavic, rhyming slang and Russian, he created a language that was timeless an would continue its unnerving effect for future generations to come.

    • TBM says:

      I love how you put this: The language forces a feeling of constant unnerving, almost isolating you and evoking the vulnerability of the outsider which works brilliantly well. Well said!

      And I didn’t know he originally planned on using slang from the sixties. I have to agree with you, using his language does stand the test of time.

  4. Beth Ann says:

    I normally like the book form better —sometimes movies take the topic in a totally different direction and probably not what the author intended. I don’t think this is going to be on my list to read quite yet. 🙂

    • TBM says:

      It’s not an easy book to read. I enjoyed it, but like I said, I don’t recommend it to everyone. I have to wonder how many authors cringe when they see a movie based on their book.

  5. wordsurfer says:

    Ha, so I just wrote that comment on the book, but on your post about the film. I’m glad you liked the book, it’s considered a classic for a good reason (at least, I think so). But you’re right, I wouldn’t recommend it indiscriminately either.
    I think that Burgess was diagnosed with a terminal illness and told he only had a short while to live and because he’d always wanted to write and he and his wife were totally skint, he sat down and wrote this book, with the idea that the royalties would support his wife when he was dead. And when he was finished, the cancer (or whatever it was that he had) had gone into remission and he went on living and writing quite a number of books. I read this in a non-fiction book but have never bothered to check up on it – I like it as it is, a good story, a good anecdote. 🙂

    • wordsurfer says:

      (alright, so I did check up on it now and I can’t find any sources that prove this story true… yet somehow I wish I hadn’t checked up on it – it’s such a nice anecdote about the power of freeing one’s creativity)

    • TBM says:

      The preface of my book by Will Self told the same story about being diagnosed with a terminal disease and then living on for many years. So I’m pretty sure it’s accurate. Who knows with Self though 🙂 I haven’t read any of his books yet, but I’ve heard him speak on a couple of occasions and he’s a character. And I think he likes to start trouble. Could be wrong, but that was my impression of Self.

  6. hugmamma says:

    “Clockwork Orange” didn’t seem like my cup of tea when I was in college in the 60s…definitely don’t think I could get into it now. BTW…I just left a comment on your other blog “Making my mark.” I thought you were one and the same because of the TBM. Wasn’t sure until now. God bless you for managing 2 blogs. I can barely keep up the one. 😆

    • TBM says:

      Hello! I hope you’ve been well! Yeah this book isn’t for everyone. I wanted to review it for my challenge, but I didn’t want people to think I was pushing them to read it. It’s not an easy read that’s for sure.

      Thanks so much for commenting on my other blog. I’ll pop over soon.

  7. Melly says:

    I found the book hard to get into at first too with the language (even with the glossary in the back). It does give you a feeling of isolation viewing this near future. Fun fact: this is actually the first book John lent me :-O. I am actually working on a post that makes reference to the book & movie, do you mind if mention your blog in it? I saw the movie before I read the book and it is one of the few times that I preferred that order.

    • TBM says:

      Interesting first book choice by John. Did he have a reason? Favorite book maybe. The movie saved me with this one I think. Otherwise I may have put it back on the shelf and waited till the end of my 47 years to cram it in. by all means, mention my blog.

      • Melly says:

        I think we had a discussion about the movie and he said I should also read the book. It wasn’t one of his favorites, but he reads a lot of different authors (Irvine Welsh, Hubert Selby Jr., etc) that have some pretty dark topics. But he has a wide pallet for books, he also reads authors that are the happy comedic types (Pratchet, Gibson).

      • TBM says:

        That makes sense then. At first I was very curious. I love readers who read all types of books.

  8. Jo Bryant says:

    Well I guess now I shall have to read this

  9. Vishy says:

    Nice review, TBM. Glad to know that you liked the book – sometimes more than the movie. It is interesting to know about the different endings in the book. I don’t know why publishers would change a story like that. Changing the ending, changing the title – I don’t know why these things keep happening 🙂 I also found it extremely hard to understand the ‘nadsat’. I ploughed along for a while and it took me probably around 20 pages or more to get into the flow. After that the strangeness of the ‘nadsat’ dialect didn’t matter much. It made me wonder whether that is how language is – we continue reading without understanding anything and at some point things start falling in place. Isn’t that how we learnt language as children? I have a quiz question for you 🙂 Would you know where the word ‘nadsat’ came from?

    It is wonderful that you have read 79 books from your 1001 list. Great going! Congratulations!

    • TBM says:

      I was shocked to find out that two versions of the novel were released. Very good point about learning languages, how after some time everything starts to fall into place. I like that. If I remember correctly nadsat is part of Russian word that means teen, but I don’t know for sure.

      I can’t wait to reach a 100 for the books. That will be a nice milestone.

      • Vishy says:

        You got it perfectly correct, TBM! It means ‘teen’ (for example, chithir nadsat = four + teen = fourteen). I have asked that question to other friends who have read ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and you are the first to have got it right. So, Congratulations 🙂

        All the best on reaching a 100 books! Happy reading!

      • TBM says:

        I think the introduction of the book mentioned the ‘teen’ bit. Before that, I didn’t know. I would like to reach a 100 by the end of the year, but that deadline is approaching quickly.

  10. Caroline says:

    I know I will never read this. I’ve done my bit in shocking reading when I read American Psycho. And watched the movie but in the case of American Psycho the book is way more shocking. So shocking indeed that i was wondering if it was justified to unleash such horrors.
    If you look at it from a spiritual point of view (in the beginning was the word etc), I think it’s problematic to go this far in terms of violence and cruelty.

  11. Novroz says:

    I have heard so much on this book. I hope I can read it one day

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