Book four: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

I should point out that I'm not reading books at a rate of one every other day. I'm still bringing my list of books up to date on this blog. In reality I'm actually on book six - nicely on schedule for 26 books by the end of the year. Anyway, A Clockwork Orange. Somehow managed to live my life up to this point without having read the book or seen the film. Half of that's changed now.

For those who don't know, it's the story of Alex, a 15-year-old who leads his friends on a series of robberies, muggings and rapes. When he finally falls into the hands of the authorities, they adopt a radical approach to reforming him.

The writing is liberally sprinkled with 'Nadsat', the Russian-derived slang in which Alex and his gang speak. The words are seldom explained but it's fairly easy to absorb the meaning through context. The greatest thing about Nadsat is that, because Burgess made it up, it never dates. Alex and his gang are somehow timeless.

With a central character as despicable as Alex, Burgess does an impressive job of keeping the reader's sympathy. However, the real strength of the book is Burgess's refusal to offer any easy answers. Should offenders such as Alex be punished or treated? To what extent is he to blame for his behaviour and to what extent has he been made by society? It's left up to the reader to draw his own conclusion.

I should have read this sooner.