liveonearth (liveonearth) wrote,

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A Clockwork Orange

I recently checked out a copy of the 1963 novelette by Anthony Burgess from the Flagstaff Public Library. I knew nothing about the story. I had been advised by friends NOT to see the Stanley Kubrick movie because of a disturbing rape scene. I had been advised by one proofreader of my book-in-progress that I should read the book, because it is a study on invented language and my book is about the slang of river runners. So I brought home this short book.

In the intro Burgess informed me that the initial American publisher had amputated the 21st and final chapter finding it to be pointless, whereas British editions of the book include the final chapter. The droog, Alex, reaches the ripe old age of 18 in that final chapter, and finally begins to feel bored with adolescent violence and destruction. Burgess was insulted that his final chapter was chopped. He explains that he considers the transformation of a leading character to be part of the definition of a novel. By removing the 21st chapter's ray of hope that that rascal Alex could be redeemed, the publisher changed it from a story to a portrait of evil. Here I have the complete book.

After reading the first chapter I decided that I do not need to read the entire book. The first chapter is a crash course in the invented language. The language is ingenious and somewhat obscures the random pointless viciousness of the characters' actions. But I did catch on, at least a little. It seems to be the story of a young man who in the company of other similar young men goes around abusing and killing, drinking, raping and robbing for the hell of it. I didn't need to read another 19 chapters of sheer amorality written in code, so I jumped past the middle chapters and finished my read with the 21st chapter.

The 21st chapter starts out exactly the same as the first chapter. Had I read the entire book, I would be completely educated in this code language, and I'm sure it would mean a lot more to me. But I skipped the education, just as I skip many movies that are gratuitous entertainment. I do not need to know--any more than I already do--how awful teenage boys can be when left to run amok, or the specifics of Burgess' invented criminal language.

Suffice it to say that this serves as a good example, if fictitional, of the fact that invented language often occurs in small human groups that have something to hide, criminals being among the foremost. I can now return this book to the library and engage in more uplifting reading.

I'm interested to note that on the back cover, William S. Burroughs comments that "...the fact that this is also a very funny book may pass unnoticed." I imagine it would take a mind such as Burroughs' to find humor in this. I probably wouldn't, even if I did desire to read it in its entirety. Perhaps it would be humorous in the same way as Kill Bill, and for me to find the humor in that was a stretch.
Tags: books, violence, writing

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