Clockwork Orange, A

by Anthony Burgess (1962)


I’m inclined to believe authors’ opinions about their own works. So when Burgess in his introduction says, “I should myself be glad to disown it,” I tend to accept such judgment at face value and proceed to look for reasons why he should feel this way. It’s similar to how I felt with John Fante‘s The Road to Los Angeles, which was published posthumously after Fante sat on it for basically his entire adult life — he didn’t think it merited publication and contrary to some adoring reviewers he was right.

It takes a certain amount of arrogance as a reviewer or critic to say that an author’s work is actually better than he/she thinks it is. You’re basically saying the author whose work you love doesn’t know what they’re talking about, a puzzling way indeed to make your point.

But Burgess is of course right about his own work. It is only barely a novel and really more of a fable, with the theme broadcast so loudly that it overpowers the art. The last chapter — though interesting and I would say appropriate to the rest of the story — really makes the entire book feel banal. Oh, so youth are wild and then they grow up you say? What lightning strike of genius revealed that truth to you? Perhaps if this had been drawn out a bit instead of seemingly tacked on it would have felt more organic.

That said, it’s entertaining and a worthwhile read, one of the funnier books I’ve read in a while. It’s fascinating to see how precisely it corresponds to the film — whatever success Kubrick enjoyed with his adaptation is really owed to Burgess, because the material was lifted almost whole-cloth from the book. The language is mildly difficult but the rhythm of it is lovely and you really don’t have to understand it to know what’s going on. I would highly recommend it to fans of the film, and tepidly to fans of classic or innovative literature.

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