Wednesday, November 26, 2014

What I'm Reading: A Clockwork Orange

My policy on "classics" is generally to avoid reviewing them because everything that can be said has already been said. So instead, I'm just going to discuss my experiences with A Clockwork Orange because this is a book that's been on my mind for over ten years.

I first gave it a try in high school. For a birthday or Christmas or something sort of present one year, my younger brother got signed up for Easton Press's "Science Fiction Classics" book club. Every month for years he got a luxurious, leather-bound copy of a classic science fiction novel: Dune, Neuromancer, Solaris, and many, many others. One of them was A Clockwork Orange.

I have no idea how many of these my brother actually read (I was always the bigger bookworm), but fortunately he was perfectly mellow with me borrowing whatever one I liked for however long I wanted. One of the ones I borrowed was A Clockwork Orange.

This particular edition came with a glossary of all of the nadsat slang in the back. I'm not sure if that was a good idea or a bad idea: on the one hand if I really didn't understand something I could look it up; on the other hand all the stopping and looking up took me out of the story and probably is what slowed my reading down to a crawl.

I eventually gave it up in favor of other things I wanted to (or had to) read and it became one of those Book Bugbears: you know you should read it, or you even want to, but you just can't bring yourself to sit down and read it. I'm not even sure if that edition had 20 or 21 chapters.

Then, years later, I decided to tackle TIME's Top 100 Novels list, and I saw it on there. I put it off until the end, because I figured: "Well, I've read enough of it. I should read these other books I haven't read at all first."

Well, now is the time. I'm getting most of my remaining books from the Stockholm public library system, which is impressive, but it doesn't have all of the remaining books. A Clockwork Orange was the only book I could find at the branch I visited on Monday so I decided to give it another go.

This time, the going with the writing (and in particular, nadsat) is much easier. I think there might be a few reasons for that.

  1. I'm older now and my reading comprehension has (probably) improved. It's hard for me to tell myself if that's happened, but I would assume that this is the case.
  2. I remember enough of my first go-around that it helps.
  3. The Russian I studied in university hasn't been entirely forgotten. "Itty" seems like it comes from идти, which happens to be one of many, many words for "to go." (I remember it because when you conjugate it in one form, it sounds more or less like "idiot" and these things amuse me.) Same with "slooshy," "viddy," and so forth. 
  4. I've been doing enough reading in Swedish that I've become better accustomed to dealing with words I don't immediately understand in a text.
The only question left is that of the last chapter. Burgess wanted it in; his American publisher wanted it out. Which version is the best? Is the last chapter necessary? Or does it ruin the whole thing?

I haven't finished the book yet (I probably will over the holiday weekend), so I'll have to hold out on that. But if you have any thoughts on the last chapter of A Clockwork Orange, feel free to share them!

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