Book Review – A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Posted May 8, 2014 by Bonnie in Adult, Book Reviews, Read in 2014 / 3 Comments

Book Review – A Clockwork Orange by Anthony BurgessA Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Published by W. W. Norton & Company on 1962
Pages: 213
Genres: Classics, Dystopian/Post-Apocalyptic
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository


A vicious fifteen-year-old "droog" is the central character of this 1963 classic, whose stark terror was captured in Stanley Kubrick's magnificent film of the same title.

In Anthony Burgess's nightmare vision of the future, where criminals take over after dark, the story is told by the central character, Alex, who talks in a brutal invented slang that brilliantly renders his and his friends' social pathology.A Clockwork Orange is a frightening fable about good and evil, and the meaning of human freedom. When the state undertakes to reform Alex—to "redeem" him—the novel asks, "At what cost?"

This edition includes the controversial last chapter not published in the first edition and Burgess's introduction "A Clockwork Orange Resucked".

*spoilers will follow*

“What’s it going to be then, eh?”

A Clockwork Orange is set in a futuristic London where nadsats (teenagers) roam the streets at night seeking to cause all sorts of horrorshow (good) ultra-violence. Our humble narrator, Alex, and his three droogs (friends) are those exact types of nadsats that people fear, causing them to lock themselves inside their house to avoid danger. Alex and his droogs relax at the Korova Milkbar drinking moloko plus (milk plus… something) before going out to cause ultra-violence and maybe a little of the old in and out. It’s a night like any other night for Alex and his droogs. Burgess created a specific language solely for these characters which he calls Nadsat. It’s is a fictional language but is essentially an eclectic mix of Slavic and Russian words with a bit of gypsy swirled in. It’s incredibly confusing to follow and does take a while to catch on to but it’s one of the most fascinating aspects of this book.

This is my first time reading A Clockwork Orange and I actually went into it knowing practically nothing about the plot/story. The whole brainwashing aspect reminded me a lot of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest which is one of my all-time favorites, but A Clockwork Orange had a whole other level to the story regarding moral choice. In the book, Alex volunteers to undergo an experimental treatment that would condition him out of his violent behavior and get him out of prison early which was most appealing to him. Even though he volunteers for Ludovico’s Technique, he’s not clear on what exactly he’s volunteered for.

“Is it better for a man to have chosen evil than to have good imposed upon him?”

The technique removed his ability to choose to do right as Alex became violently sick whenever he attempted violence of any sort, including when it involved the need to defend himself against others. I believe that Burgess’ intentions were to show that behavior that is forced, rather than chosen of your own free will, is wholly wrong and that it was much more preferred that Alex make his own decisions even if he was making all the wrong choices. Because in the end, did he not eventually go on to make the right choice himself without the help of the brainwashing? This may have been Burgess’ intentions but it took a lot of contemplating to truly decipher it. Moral choice is such a vast topic that attempting to pack it into this slim novella really left a lot unsaid and I felt he didn’t explore it in as much detail as he could have.

The version of Clockwork Orange that I read contains the mysterious 21st chapter that was left out from the original American publication. It’s the version of the story that most people are familiar with as Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of the novella was also created without the final 21st chapter. I finished the book and then watched the movie shortly after and the ending of the movie was incredibly dreary and lacked any sort of hope for anything good. The book wasn’t chock full of hope but it gave the novel a point. The movie ended with Alex no longer brainwashed and quickly going back to his evil ways but the intended ending that was contained in the 21st chapter showed Alex realizing the wrongness of his actions and even going so far as to contemplate a possible future with a wife and kids of his own. While I personally preferred the books ending, I still didn’t think it was fitting. Some unknown amount of time has passed between the 20th chapter and the 21st, yet it still feels as if his realization of his wrongdoings came completely out of nowhere. After the horrid things he did I didn’t expect such a giant leap into being a good and moral individual.

A Clockwork Orange is a book truly meant to be discussed and analyzed. I was fortunate enough to have buddy-read this with Christina and we traded e-mails back and forth for over a week after finishing. I’m not sure I would have been able to properly wrap my head around the story without her. 🙂



3 responses to “Book Review – A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

  1. I’ve always known about this book and movie, but I’ve never actually investigated what is was about. I think I’d like the book with the 21st chapter added because I hate dreary, depressing endings. Great, informative review, Bonnie, as I had no idea what this famous story was about! 🙂
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