A CLOCKWORK ORANGE by Anthony Burgess

by JF

When this novel was originally published there was some controversy over the last chapter. What happened was, Burgess’s New York publisher, unlike his London publisher, would only publish the book sans the final chapter, the reason being, so said the New York publisher, the book is so dystopianly dark that, to include a wistful denouement at the end only kills the impact and the meaningfulness of everything that came before it. Burgess didn’t like it at the time, but he needed the money, so he agreed to allow the novel to be published in the United States without the final chapter.

So, at the outset of finally getting around to reading this classic novel for myself (note: like most people, I was only familiar with the Stanley Kubrick movie, which also leaves out the last chapter), I was wondering if, when I got to the end, I would find favor with the last chapter or not.

I didn’t. But what surprised me was, not only did I find that the last chapter lacking, I also found the last one-third of the book itself to somewhat defeat the author’s apparent purpose for the first two-thirds. Indeed this should have been an even shorter novel than it already is.

The first two-thirds depicts a world in which juvenile crime–especially exquisitely violent crime–is rampant, while the cops are inept, and the adults cower in terror inside their homes. Burgess, writing this in 1963, seemed to have been momentarily (before he self-destructs later in the book) very prescient in his outlook on the future for first-world societies: indeed today in the 21st century the world seems a lot more like the prophet Isaiah warned: Isaiah 3:12: “As for my people, children are their oppressors…”. Burgess also famously invented his own unique slang language for his teenage thugs, i.e., “droogies.” And Burgess waxes very philosophical when his main character, Alex, finally gets caught and undergoes a controversial new “rehab therapy” which basically turns him into an automaton, unable to commit crime anymore, but equally unable to have any freedom of will at all.

I have heard it said that this novel is not for the squeamish. That may have been the case back when it was written, but not anymore: the grotesque “ultraviolence” committed by these little ” bratchny droogies” upon poor innocent “chellovecks and devotchkas” nowadays just reads like the average reports of violence in any big city newspaper around the country. Frankly, the best part of the book is the violent part; it is the part which resonates most with today’s readers, as it shows Burgess to have momentarily captured literary “magic in a bottle,” so they say.

All told, a very original and quite engrossing little novel. It’s just that it gets even better if you tear the last few chapters right out of there; don’t even waste your time.

Rating: Δ Δ Δ