“You are to be made into a good boy, 6655321. Never again will you have the desire to commit acts of violence or to offend in any way whatsoever against the State’s Peace. …”
Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange, Penguin Modern Classics, 2000, page 71.
Alex, a bright and perceptive fifteen-year-old student, enjoys classical music – particularly Beethoven. He also has a fondness for depraved acts of violence. At night he is the leader of a group of malevolent, drug-addled hoodlums who take pleasure in preying upon the innocent. After Alex is betrayed by his associates and convicted of murder, he grasps at the chance to avoid a lengthy period of imprisonment by participating in an experimental procedure designed to eliminate his unhealthy desires. Alex soon realizes, however, that his quick path to freedom bears a hefty price tag.
Alex, our ‘humble narrator’, addresses us directly in ‘nadsat-talk’, the informal language of the youth gangs who rule the night in Burgess’s dark, parallel universe. While disorienting at first, the reader adapts quickly to Alex’s creative vocabulary and playful linguistic style.
Burgess’s controversial novel should not be consumed straight - it is a farcical foray into satiric exaggeration with elements of science fiction and horror. It is a frenetic, sometimes disturbing, and often comical, read.
Through the distorted lens of a deviant and self-absorbed youth, Burgess examines the interplay between politics and the justice system, as Alex becomes a pawn in a philosophical battle over the methods the state is justified in using to correct the aberrant behavior of its citizens.
The dangerous allure of the state’s desire to tinker with the delicate clockwork of the mind in the name of public safety is a theme that will continue to resonate as we improve our understanding of the development and functioning of the brain.