A Clockwork Orange

By Anthony Burgess,

Book cover of A Clockwork Orange

Book description

In Anthony Burgess's influential nightmare vision of the future, where the criminals take over after dark, the story is told by the central character, Alex, a teen who talks in a fantastically inventive slang that evocatively renders his and his friends' intense reaction against their society. Dazzling and transgressive, A…


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Why read it?

11 authors picked A Clockwork Orange as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

This is a book that had an air of danger about it when I was at school. Perhaps mostly because the excellent Kubrick adaptation had been banned (although, as I later discovered, it was ‘banned’ by the director himself because of copycat morons and threats towards his family.) The book contains an invented language. Invented words have been used by authors before, of course, from James Joyce to Lewis Carroll, and many sci-fi authors. Here, it is not only fun and poetic, but also builds a prison of alienation around the protagonists. 

Most people are more familiar with the film and less so with the novel. Though Stanley Kubrick’s version offered a vivid and electrifying experience while creating some controversy at the time, the novel goes deeper into the workings of the violent mind. Burgess’ style is a treat to read, and the slang and pseudo-language his characters contrive are fun to explore, and plays a larger part in the novel. His characters come off the page as more three-dimensional than in the film, as well.

Like a lot of people, I came to A Clockwork Orange after seeing Stanley Kubrick’s iconic adaptation, which cleverly incorporates elements of surreal humor into its many disturbing visuals. But the novel, with its groundbreaking use of an invented futuristic slang – Nadsat – is on another level in this regard. Despite the awful acts performed by Alex and his droogs, you can’t help laughing at such phrases as “bolshy groodies,” “starry vellochecks,” “pink glazzies,” and “a malenky bit bezoomny.” The language carries you creeching and smecking through the humble narrator’s descent into state-controlled redemption, all of it real horrorshow…

From Sean's list on making you laugh and think.

Burgess blew me away with how he used the number of chapters to tell a story in and of itself. 

There are 21 chapters in Clockwork, and Burgess revealed in interviews that that number is quite purposeful; the book is about a boy maturing into a man, and Burgess used 21 chapters since that is the age at which people are legally considered adults in his homeland of England. 

This book taught me that restricting myself on purpose (the way Burgess limited himself to exactly 21 chapters) would enhance my creativity, not hinder it. I also liked how he…

He makes up his own language. He lives his violent fantasies. Its final chapter wasn't originally published in America, due to America's ambivalent understanding of its own morals and tolerances. Striving, beauty, confusion, the teen experience, and all of it dystopian and seen through the looking glass of the narrator's flaws. This, friends, is horrible and beautiful all at once.

From Benjamin's list on with devilishly unreliable narrators.

C’mon, my little droogies; let’s traipse down to the Korova and have a wee bit of Moloko and maybe some of the old ultraviolence. That’s a real good horrorshow!

Is A Clockwork Orange a horror novel? Most would say no. I would give a big, resounding yes. It shows from a first-person perspective the ins and outs of an adolescent sociopath who cares about nothing but the next big thrill and how he can exert his perceived control over the world. Extreme sensual violence and hedonism are displayed, and yet it somehow digs into our souls and reveals how we…

There are many impressive aspects to this novel about the brainwashing of a teenage gang leader, a book that in my opinion far exceeds the 1971 Oscar-nominated Stanley Kubrick film adaptation. Burgess’s invented slang, his artful world-building, the way he flips the narrative to inspire equal measures of disgust, anger, righteousness, pity, hope, and fear—all of these elements make A Clockwork Orange a truly unique novel that switches from dystopia to utopia and back again, albeit in a very different incarnation of dystopia than the one that opened the story.

From Greg's list on utopia-turned-dystopia.

This was the first book for me that framed violent street culture inside a dystopian context. Burgess broke the rules. An intelligent writer didn’t have to be some egghead nerd. This was enlightening for me, because throughout my life I’ve had experiences with people who were gang-affiliated. Burgess inspired me to embrace violence and antisocial elements in my storytelling.

From Guillermo's list on to violently bludgeon reality.

Published in 1962 but set in the near future, A Clockwork Orange was a satirical response to society’s fears of British hooliganism by nihilistic juveniles. But beneath the satire were serious themes that take on a new wrinkle today. Movements are afoot to completely rethink how we handle criminals and repeat offenders, calling for measures that are less punitive and more rehabilitative. Ah, but therein lies the catch: In attempting to remake protagonist Alex’s “Droogs” as functioning members of society, is the government simply stifling self-will by enslaving its subjects with society’s rules, whose inequitable policies often lead to people…

From Paul's list on dystopian visions.

If all war is class war, then this urban battlefield is where society breaks down.

The movie was excellent. But the book is so much deeper with its own Russian-derived, invented slang in the mouths of British louts feeding on the terrible taste of "ultra-violence".

It doesn't matter which side you are on because everyone loses in their attempts to break through or control -- two directions that ultimately lead to our current real-life dystopia.

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