Book #2 – A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork OrangeA Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
192 pages

Rating: ** stars out of five stars.

I knew that this book would be disturbing but I didn’t realize how much certain scenes would bother me. I understand that the prevalence of assault and rape in the story is supposed to enhance the climax of the plot, but at times the violence seemed gratuitous. Especially the one scene where two minors were involved…I won’t give it away. I’ve read multiple reviews of A Clockwork Orange online, and many readers stated that they felt bad for the protagonist. I don’t know how people can feel that after all that this character did in the first third of the book. While I do not agree with the methods of the government and police, I had a hard time working up any empathy for the kid. The other thing I didn’t like was the ending. Originally, the ending of the novel was cut by the publisher, but my edition had the ending still intact. I could see why the publishers wanted to cut this ending. It seemed forced, unrealistic, and unnecessary.

A Clockwork Orange does have some redeeming qualities. The slang used by the protagonist and his friends is known as Nadsat. It’s a combination of Russian, gypsy talk, and english slang. I thought I would have trouble reading it because most of this novel includes Nadsat words, but it wasn’t difficult at all. Most words you could figure out by the context alone, and some words were self-explanatory. The way Burgess crafted the language was just pure genius.

I read this right after finishing John Steinbeck’s classic East of Eden, so it was definitely a sharp difference as far as style and genre go. However, there were similarities in theme: good vs. evil, free will, and the importance of choices. A Clockwork Orange definitely had a more fatalistic brutal way of portraying these themes, whereas Steinbeck was more delicate, yet powerful.

Book #1 – East of Eden

east of edenEast of Eden by John Steinbeck
602 pages

Rating: * * * * * out of five stars.

This book was amazing. The ending gave me chills. It made me think a lot about what it means to be a good person and the expectations people put on others to always do the right thing. And how we have the power to decide between right and wrong, and make different choices that lead us down different paths. Lee was, by far, my favorite character. I’d like to sit with him and drink tea and discuss the concept of timshel – the Hebrew word for “thou mayest” – which was the central theme of East of Eden. Here’s a paragraph from the book:

“Don’t you see?” [Lee] cried. “The American Standard translation [of the Bible] orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’ Don’t you see?”

A small word can change the meaning of central themes in the Bible. I never actually thought about that until I read this passage, so it’s always exciting to examine and think about new topics. My brain likes the workout.

Overall, I would consider this one of my favorite books. I may write about it again later on. While I was reading A Clockwork Orange (which was the next book I read), I kept relating the two novels, as both are about choice and the freedom to choose.