Monday, February 28, 2011

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess - Book Review #124

Monday, February 28, 2011
A Clockwork Orange
by Anthony Burgess

A vicious fifteen-year-old "droog" is the central character of this 1963 classic, whose stark terror was captured in Stanley Kubrick's magnificent film of the same title. In Anthony Burgess's nightmare vision of the future, where criminals take over after dark, the story is told by the central character, Alex, who talks in a brutal invented slang that brilliantly renders his and his friends' social pathology. A Clockwork Orange is a frightening fable about good and evil, and the meaning of human freedom. When the state undertakes to reform Alex—to "redeem" him—the novel asks, "At what cost?" This edition includes the controversial last chapter not published in the first edition and Burgess's introduction "A Clockwork Orange Resucked."

My way towards A Clockwork Orange was quite a journey by itself. I knew about this book and wanted to read it for years; and I wanted to read it in its original language – English, because I prefer to read books without translations, if possible. However there were two obstacles that were stopping me: first, I kept hearing about some intense slang; and second, English isn’t my first language. So I kept thinking that if even native speakers find A Clockwork Orange a difficult book to read, how impossible it would be for me. And I kept postponing this book, till the time I would feel that I know English good enough to try reading it, until recently.

My thoughts once more came back to A Clockwork Orange and I started to read a bit more attentively about it. And what did I read in the synopsis itself on – “Alex, who talks in a brutal invented slang” Invented! This one word gave me a hope. If the slang used in A Clockwork Orange is invented, than I’m at the same position as native speakers. If that slang is invented than no one actually knows it, except these who read the book and the inventor himself – Anthony Burgess. To settle on my decision to finally read it, I went on and skim through some reviews and found out a very good advice – to look up A Clockwork Orange glossary, print it and have it alongside while reading the book. I followed the advice an upon opening the glossary I went on reading the first column only, not paying any attention to the second and the third. On the second word I got a feeling of something familiar, but didn’t pay any attention to that. After fourth and fifth word I stopped reading and stared on the list, my eyes slid to the second column and my suspicion got proofed; my eyes slid to the third column of the glossary and everything finally became clear – the third column said: “origins: Russian”. I looked though the third column and 99% on the “invented” language had Russian origins. Yes, it was spelled using Latin alphabet; yes, it was shorten sometimes the way Russians would never shorten it; yes, it was broken, but nevertheless it was Russian. “Invented slang!” I thought and laughed. “Invented language!” I kept laughing. “Anthony Burgess created the whole new language to write this book! And I’ve been putting away this book because of this ”invented” language that I happens to be native speaker of! ” And after that without any hesitation I cracked the cover of A Clockwork Orange open.

My way through A Clockwork Orange turned out to be quite a journey as well. Even though now I was convinced that I know both English and the invented slang, I never realized how still confusing it would be to read a book written on two languages simultaneously, when these two languages are mixed up in the same sentence. However, after initial ten – twenty pages I almost got used even to this.

Despite all linguistic difficulties, I enjoyed A Clockwork Orange very mush. Anthony Burgess managed to create one of the rare and paradoxical main characters that regardless of being an anti-hero still utterly lovable. Not being very wordy, Anthony Burgess pulled off fully fleshed, believable characters and perceptive world.

The ideas Anthony Burgess explored in A Clockwork Orange of freedom, importance of free will, good and evil, what becomes to the person when evil can no longer be part oneself, still ring true and still can be considered as unresolved, open questions. Burgess arguments his point of view very clearly and earnestly; and I do agree with his point of view

I read the edition that contained the last, “controversial”, as it called in the synopsis, chapter. Honestly, I didn’t find anything controversial in the chapter itself. The only controversy I see that it was never printed in the US. I also read Burgess's introduction and I completely agree with him that without the last chapter the story would be no longer a novel, but a fable. It would not contain the growth and development of the character, not to mention, it would leave some plot lines hang in the air (Pete’s story). I would not discuss here why US publisher decided to leave the last chapter out. I would not discuss if it was a good idea or not. I will just say: “I viddyed the whole veshch and that was horrorshow, my droogs.”

I would recommend this book to each and every person. A Clockwork Orange is a true classic that everyone should read. So...

"What's it going to be then, eh?"

Friday, February 25, 2011

Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky - Book Review #123

Friday, February 25, 2011
Notes from Underground
by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

A predecessor to such monumental works such as Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, Notes From Underground represents a turning point in Dostoyevsky's writing towards the more political side. In this work we follow the unnamed narrator of the story, who disillusioned by the oppression and corruption of the society in which he lives withdraws from that society into the underground. A dark and politically charged novel, Notes From Underground shows Dostoyevsky at his best.

Notes from Underground is a very short, but a very attention demanding book. If you just skim it, you will be left with nothing. However, if you give it a time and try to digest it properly, thinking it through, you will be left with hundred of very important questions (Dostoyevsky will not give you any answers) and a horrible recognition of yourself in the main character. I believe that everyone can find something or probably everything to relate to the Underground man, though not everyone would admit it even to themselves.

Every man has some reminiscences which he would not tell to everyone, but only to his friends. He has others which he would not reveal even to his friends, but only to himself, and that in secret. But finally there are still others which a man is even afraid to tell himself, and every decent man has a considerable number of such things stored away.
That is, one can even say that the more decent he is, the greater the number of such things in his mind.

I guess I’m only able to admit it here, under the disguise of the digital world. Though, if I’m admitting it, am I already not like the main character? Questions.

Questions… Does emotional stability more important than level of IQ? If the Underground man wouldn’t be in such poverty, would it give him a piece of mind? Would he have a better chance of emotional peace in the twenty first century in civilized country with Prozac and shrink’s help available?

Dostoyevsky drew a full, realistic picture of a Superfluous Man. How many are there people like that? Aren’t we all feel or actually are sometimes Superfluous Men? Questions.

Questions… And one of the most important questions is – should we even bother to ask these questions to ourselves? Because as Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoyevsky said:

What's better – cheap happiness or lofty suffering? Well, tell me – which of the two is better?