5 July 2009

Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange, 1962

The small but important differences between the original book and Stanley Kubrick's brutal film are not often commented on. This is still, thankfully, not yet a book to be noted for being a prediction, instead as a warning it seems to have functioned very well largely as a result of Kubrick’s truncated adaptation. But what was lost to Kubrick – he was unaware of the book’s final chapter because it was omitted from US editions – is a final sense of personal sympathy for the violent and unreliable teenage narrator, Alex. It’s actually what keeps the book alive and relevant because Burgess came down clearly on the side of his distinctly amoral anti-hero, despite having been driven to write A Clockwork Orange out of personal experience and loss from precisely the kind of violence he describes. It must have been difficult to write for that reason alone, though when set against the even greater amorality of a misguided government trying to deal effectively with youth crime it’s clear the book emerged out of Burgess asking himself some hard questions while still feeling a justifiable rage. Which makes the book a moral one, and far easier to experience than the film despite the complexities of Burgess’s invented language, Nadsat, which somehow also serves to veil the violence. Of which there’s plenty.  PY


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