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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Friday, 6 October 2017

"A Clockwork Orange" by Anthony Burgess

A masterpiece by the man who wrote so many other masterpieces including:

There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, Dim being really dim, and we sat in the Korova milkbar making up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry." (p 3) 

Alex and his three droogs are thugs and robbers in a dystopian world. Although some aspects of society are rigidly controlled in a mirror to soviet society in which everyone lives in tower blocks and everyone has to either go to school or work, the police have lost control of the night and youth gangs roam the streets. 

And Alex inhabits an alternate reality. He and his droogs have their own argot, nadsat: it is the language that first excites when you read the book. At the start it is overwhelming: “Our pockets were full of deng, so there was no real need from the point of view of crasting any more pretty polly to tolchok some old veck in an alley and viddy him swim in his blood while we counted the takings and divided by four.” (p 3) is one of the easier sentences. But it is surprising how swiftly one learns the lingo. Then, having entered the mind of Alex through being able to understand his inner voice, we enter also his world of violence. In the first few pages Alex and his droogs beat up an old man and vandalise his library books, rob a “sweets and cancers shop” (p 9), and steal a car and drive out to the countryside to break and enter and beat up an author and gang rape his wife. The film was condemned at the time for its violence but it is all there in the book. And the book ensures that you, sharing the language of Alex, are aware of his joy in violence. He loves it. It turns him on. It excites him. It fulfils him. He is overwhelmed by it.

He also loves and is overwhelmed by classical music. “Oh, it was gorgeousness and gorgeosity made flesh.” (p 26) is a reaction to just a few notes he hears sung. He comes home from the gang rape and lies in bed listening to a violin concerto. The next day, truanting from school, he meets two young girls at the record shop and takes them home, gets them drunk and brutally rapes them to the last movement of Beethoven's ninth symphony, the Song of Joy: "then these two young ptitsas were not acting the big lady sophisto no more. They were like waking up to what was being done to their malenky persons and saying that they wanted to go home  and like I was a wild beast. They looked like they had been in some big bitva, as indeed they had, and were all bruised and pouty. ... They were creeching and going ow ow ow as they put heir platties on, and they were like punchipunching me with their teeny fists as I lay there dirty and nagoy and fair shagged and fagged on the bed ... Then they were going down the stairs and I dropped off to sleep, still with the old Joy Joy Joy crashing and howling away." (p 36) Thus with this distinctive narratorial voice sex and violence and classical music are combined.

Alex is captured and jailed and given experimental aversion therapy to brainwash him into being good. But when he is released he discovers that not only can he not stand the thought of violence but also he can't stand his music. Rejected by his parents and his droogs, subjected to violence from his victims, he is used by political subversives in a battle against the government and it is only through a suicide attempt that his brainwashing is undone.

There are some nice parallels between the start of part one and the start of part two: The first line, “What's it going to be then, eh?” (p 3) is repeated four times over the first few pages. It is then repeated four times at the start of part two and four times in part three although one of those is left until the last few pages. “In out in out” is how Alex refers to sex. But when he is in prison at the start of part two the chaplain asks “is it going to be in and out and in and out of institutions?” The three parts are carefully structured: Alex as vicious teenage tearaway; Alex in prison and undergoing experimental treatment to make him good; Alex trying to survive in a post prison world. It is a morality play in three acts. The message? Young people go through a naughty phase? There is only morality if there is a choice? A totalitarian society is bad because it takes that choice away?

More brilliant lines:
  • Then out comes the blood, my brothers, real beautiful.” (p 7)
  • He said nothing for fear of being called gloopy and a domeless wonderboy.” (p 9)
  • We went back to town, running over odd squealing things on the way.” (p 20) 
  • I felt all the little malenky hairs on my plott standing endwise and the shivers crawling up like slow malenky lizards and then down again.” (p 22)
  • I got more razdraz inside, calmer out.” (p 24) 
  • This biting of their toe-nails over what is the cause of badness is what turns me into a fine laughing malchick. They don't go into the cause of goodness, so why the other shop?” (p 31)
  • Civilized my syphilised yarbles.” (p 32)
  • And so I lead my three droogs out to my doom.” (p 43)
  • That was everything. I’d done the lot, now. And me still only fifteen.” (p 56)

A stunningly brilliant book pushed into stratospheric orbit by the language. Overwhelming. A masterpiece.

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