Monday, March 19, 2012

Book 139: Finished.

“When a man cannot chose, he ceases to be a man.”

This might be one of the first times I've finished a book off my list and don't think I will read it again (at least not for a long time). Sometimes when I read, I know that I will have to read a book again for various reasons. It might be that some passages were unclear, or that I loved it and want to revisit it, or that I feel pulled to it in some way. There are other reasons, of course, and while I was certainly blown away by what was in A Clockwork Orange, I think one read was enough for least for now.

I talked a little bit about it when I wrote about my initial impressions last week, but this novel is insane. On top of the slang, there is also the violence. And while most of it takes place in the first few chapters, there are sentences and other passages later on that bring it back to the forefront of the novel. Usually I can handle violence and gore. On the few occasions that someone has been seriously injured at the park, I can completely handle whatever is in front of me. I can stand watching it in movies. I'm not okay with it, but I can see it and understand.

For some reason, the violence in A Clockwork Orange was a but much for me. I mentioned in my first post that Alex, the narrator, and his friends beat up and gang rape a young woman early on in the novel. That was a difficult scene to read, but Burgess mentions Alex leering at other women and thinking about raping them as well. It turned my stomach quite a few times.

I think the violence is so powerful because of the slang. I mentioned this in both of my earlier posts on the book, but Alex and his friends talk in nadsat, a crazy slang that dominates the novel. The words even sound harsh, so when Alex talks about raping a woman, or beating another person, it comes across even more violent, if possible. It is hard to explain exactly what I mean, but if you have read the novel, I hope you understand.

But, even with all the violence, Burgess has an interesting story, and one that I really some kind of weird way. Alex is finally imprisoned after being held responsible for killing an older woman. While in prison, Alex doesn't seem to change. Instead, the government decides to use a new technique on him to help him avoid violence. Forcing him to sit in a chair, his eyelids pried open, they show him super violent and horrifying movies, accompanied by music. Slowly, he begins to feel sick when seeing the videos and even when he has the tiniest thought of violence. The idea is to force him into making good decisions and making him a positive edition to society. He cannot choose to react by thinking violently without sickness crippling him. He is no longer free to choose his own response.

This is the part of the novel I truly loved, as it focused so much on those kinds of moral dilemmas. If we could reform violent criminals so that they could never have another violent thought, should we? Is it right to manipulate their brains and thought processes so they no longer have that kind of freedom? I like that Burgess brought that kind idea forward as we continued to read about Alex's adjustment to being unable to make decisions as he reentered the world as a free man.

Burgess actually made me sympathize with Alex as he struggles to find his place. Since the movies he watched were full of classical music, he can't listen to anything by Mozart, or Beethoven, or any of the others without feeling sick. Because in addition to suppressing his violent urges, they took away one of the only things that made him truly happy-listening to music and feeling it. I actually had to explain the whole thing to Matt so I wouldn't feel guilty about feeling bad for Alex.

At the end, the government who was responsible for the changes made in Alex is challenged, and he is healed-finally giving him back the power of choice in his own life. I was moved by it, and confused about how I felt. Like I said, I hated Alex at the beginning because of the things he did, but by the end...I felt for him.

I'm not sure if I'll be able to read this again. It was so violent and powerful I don't think it requires a second read. There are passages and bits that I don't think I'll forget, and others I would like to.

“That's what it's going to be then, brothers, as I come to the like end of this tale. You have been everywhere with your little droog Alex, suffering with him, and you have viddied some of the most grahzny bratchnies old Bog ever made, all on to your old droog Alex. And all it was was that I was young. But now as I end this story, brothers, I am not young, not no longer, oh no. Alex like groweth up, oh yes.

But where I itty now, O my brothers, is all on my oddy knocky, where you cannot go. Tomorrow is all like sweet flowers and the turning young earth and the stars and the old Luna up there and your old droog Alex all on his oddy knocky seeking like a mate. And all that cal. A terrible grahzny vonny world, really, O my brothers. And so farewell from your little droog. And to all others in this story profound shooms of lipmusic brrrrrr. And they can kiss my sharries. But you, O my brothers, remember sometimes thy little Alex that was. Amen. And all that call.”

*Finishing this one means one book down for the Magical March Reading Event!*


  1. This one sounds interesting and weird. It's on my Classics Club list, so I'll eventually read it...

  2. I'm with you on this. It's not something I can read again but I'm glad I did read it once. The whole concept of using aversion therapy to 'cure' violence and the ethical dilemma it poses was fascinating.

  3. It was the technique they used on Alex that really, really bothered me. There are some things that just make me feel sick, and there are some that disturb me to my absolute core. I didn't like Alex at all, but no one deserves what he went through. I say this of course having only seen the movie, not read the book, but I imagine it's to a certain degree similar. Okay, I'm going ot stop thinking about it now, before it makes me sick again, haha.

  4. I really liked this book, but the violence was too much for me, too. I don't do violence well at all. I'm not sure I could bring myself to re-read it, either.

  5. This book scares me, not because of the violence but because of the slang. I don't think I'm up to reading it.

  6. There are some books on the "best books" or "classics" lists that I shy away from because I'm not sure that I want to read their violence. This is one of those, but at the same time the whole moral-control issue discussion is really interesting to me. Perhaps I'll read it someday.

  7. I'm not sure I would be able to stomach the violence in this novel; representations of rape, in particular, really get to me. But the themes you've discussed are fascinating. I'm happy to understand the novel a bit better through your post!

  8. I agree, this is one that I have neve rfelt a desire to reread. I'm glad I read it because of the style and moral dilemmas you mentioned, but it also made me feel sick.

  9. It's a combination of horrible and wonderful when we feel for an evil person. I like to believe that's its all empathy and therefore defensible, but I really never feel satisfied with that.

  10. I clicked on your review because this is one book that's been on my list for a while now, but it's also one that I've avoided because I wasn't sure how I'd handle it - knowing just how insane it's supposed to be. Thanks for your honest and amazing review - I can't wait to read this now.