A Clockwork Orange
is a bit of a disappointment. For all of Anthony Burgess' whining about the importance of the twenty-first chapter, I much prefer the book without it. (Meaning I also prefer Kubrick's version of the novel's conclusion. Let's face it—Kubrick is a bit overrated, but his films are always
better than the books they're based on.)
The twenty-chapter-long Orange
takes a jaded, darkly hilarious look at government and morality. It's a bit heavy-handed—there's no room for subtlety when the main character goes around beating people to death!—but despite this Burgess does a decent job of character development. Though (s)he may begin by hating Alex, the careful reader gradually warms to him as a function of the novel's chronology. Of course, Burgess is playing a clever trick on his audience here: matters of the moral justifiability of the Ludovico treatment aside, Alex is still ultimately at fault for his ultra-violence. It's not as though the treatment rids Alex of the ability to torture or rape; it's just that he feels ill when in such a situation. But sickness doesn't strip people of their free will, does it? Nausea is a powerful motivator, but I'm not sure if it's that
The twenty-one-chapter-long Orange
changes the subject abruptly, stopping just short of dismissing Alex's ultra-violence as the whims of youth. This was a surprising and not altogether convincing development. Are we supposed to forget about his crimes of teenage fancy? I understand what Burgess is saying about adolescents here, but is that really the point of the book? Chapter 21 makes Orange
into an unappetizing coming-of-age adventure. Blech.
I'm still not sure whether A Clockwork Orange
was worth my time. I saw the film first and, to be honest, I didn't gain much from this reading. Call me a film snob or a lowbrow reader if you must, but this is one book that gains the world in a cinematic adaptation.