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Sand In A Clockwork Orange

January 10, 2012

In the astrological archetypes, I am the consummate Virgo. Given the opportunity, I will buy the same face wash, order the same meals, and wear the exact same types of clothes as I did last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. Regardless of whether or not you believe in Astrology, the underlying personality trait remains true. I work to break myself out of those ruts, to try new things, to wear fashionable clothes. You may lose a hand if you try to make me change my face wash, though. It’s bad enough when I can’t find it and have to buy a different type of face wash, worse if I have to switch brands (shudder).

Tangent.

Trying to break out of my book reading rut is what led to the Banned Book Review. I never actually finished reviewing all of the books, but I did manage to read all but one of them (that last one mostly because the teen angst was overwhelming and by that point I’d had more than enough teen angst for one year, thanks). Since then, I’ve worked my way through various lists, usually just picking up books on the list I’ve been meaning to read and just hadn’t gotten around to. This time around, it’s NPR’s top 100 Science-fiction, fantasy books. A list I chose in part because I’ve already read half of it and in part because the other half was made up of books I thought would be fun, easy reads.

Except there, coming in at #30, was A Clockwork Orange.

Many years ago I picked up the movie A Clockwork Orange on the recommendation of a friend. I made it right up to the scene where the main crew breaks into the cottage and then I had to turn it off. I’d made it through one rape scene already and I knew what was coming. I walked away from it and never looked back.

One of the things that I ran into with the Banned Book Review is that several of the books on the list deal with rape, sometimes in very graphic ways. It’s why they were banned. If I was going to honestly say that I done this, I would need to make it through this book. Fortunately, the library had it available on audiobook. I decided that the only way I was going to be able to finish this book was to listen to it in small chunks with something else to distract me. I chose to only listen while in the car on my way to and from work, a drive of about 10 minutes.

To my surprise, this audiobook had a forward by Anthony Burgess. It explained why he wrote the book, why he hates that it is the book he is best known for, and why he chose to create the slang dialect called “nadsat.” He felt that the slang dialect would allow the reader to somewhat distance themselves from the horrible acts and be better able to focus on the story over the shock value of the words themselves. Over the course of the book, I did find the use of nadsat made it easier to get through particularly difficult passages since it wasn’t always clear until after the fact just what had happened.

Finally, I did find that the 21st chapter (which, as Burgess explained, was originally left out of the American edition and the movie) really changed the whole tone of the book. I think that if things had been left at the end of the 20th chapter, I probably would have been grateful simply to finish. But that last chapter brings an element of hope to the story that made the book easier to accept as a whole. It is not a book I will likely ever read again. It is not a book that I would personally recommend to people, and it is certainly not the sort of book which I would have expected to garner such an odd cult-like following from people whose opinions I otherwise respect.

I am told that there is something powerful about the movie, an evaluation that I can believe of just about anything by Stanley Kubrick. But it is brutal and the one rape scene I made it through seemed more intended to titillate than repulse. And as much as I hate graphic rape scenes in movies, I hate them even more when they seem to sexualize, glorify, or make light of rape. Some people may feel that’s a character flaw in me. And I am okay with that.

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