Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Book Review: A Clockwork Orange

Enduring the effects of time is something that everything in the world must endure. As an object or even an idea gets older, it's relevance lessens as it falls ever backward into the deep tunnel that is time.
But at times, an artistic endeavor or idea can be so on target and tuned in to what we are as a society that it can seem timeless in both its effect and it's message.

Anthony Burgess' 1962 novella A Clockwork Orange is an example of such a piece. It's tone and situations having real impact and seemingly foreknowledge on the culture arising around us in modern times. The Book's subject matter of youths bent on a downward destructive path filled with sex and violence seems, although a bit extreme, a perfect comparison for what we see every day in the news, a youth culture quickly spinning into ignorance and stubborn hatred towards others.

It also is a novella of rebirth in its original form, as the main protagonist Alex finds himself coming full circle in the original publication, something Stanley Kubrick ignored for his 1971 film version, finding the final chapter omitted in American versions of the story until 1986 anti-climatic and a bit dull compared to the rest of the narrative. But this aspect also showed that even our most horrid of criminals will one day most likely mature and age beyond the monsters they were in youth, either a sign that redemption is possible for all or that the demons of childhood have a limited span to effect us all.

Imagery within the work is almost like a painting done with words rather than brush strokes, from the milk bar where Alex and his gang of “Droogs” indulge in drugs before they roam about a very socialist and decayed England to the very corrections facility that is a hell in and of itself, both for the prisoners and those in charge. As the young criminals go searching for sexual conquests and violent meetings, it mirrors our headlines in the papers so close and yet so far that we are transfixed to wonder still if one day this painting will become more the backdrop to future reality then science fiction.

At the forefront also is the callous and untrustworthy nature of the children that would be produced by such a society, as displayed as Alex's former friends turn on him and leave him at the scene of a crime to be placed into custody and forced to pay the price for his transgressions. These are issues that are at the heart of the desensitization of our society in the internet age, a growing problem that seemingly has no end in sight.
Adding to this that the people shown to be in positions of power are seemingly no better creates a dark void of a time and place where there is no such thing as a normal life unaffected by the fall of culture and something put in our faces when the 'cured' Alex is confronted by former gang members now turned police, the wolf in sheep's clothing.

Love and hate are as intermingled as war and peace and the fact that Alex's seemingly pure love of classical pieces and Beethoven are later used against him as a means of a 'cure' that is as pure a torture as the crimes he had formerly inflicted on others. Alex becomes a symbol for the fact that although an act may be incredibly cruel and dark, to respond with a similar gesture makes us no better than the criminal in the end.

Dialects and language are also an important factor in the world Burgess weaves for us in the book, the author also being a linguist and using this knowledge to create a mix of Russian and English slang that give one a sense of being in this fictional dystopia like no other method, as Alex uses the created Nadsat lingo to let us wrap ourselves into the little world of ultra violence and horror show dramatics.

A Clockwork Orange becomes a story that we cannot look away from, like passers-by staring at a horrible auto accident, it is both our curiosity and the creature deep within that makes us want to watch in fascination as it unfolds, no matter how distasteful the subject matter may be to us.
It is a book that should be felt as well as read it's message is that it's the world is already here around us, waiting for us to give into the coiled snake in our stomach that wishes to bite all it sees.
Alex is us and we are Alex, and the world draws ever closer to the world in which he resided.

-Thomas Spychalski

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