A Clockwork Orange--Anthony Burgess

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While Linda was recovering from surgery, and finished my first book on my marvelous Kindle. I don't know why I devolved upon this title as I'd read it a couple of time before. However the catchy beginning and refrain and the marvelous experiment in reading a language that isn't quite English, is engaging.

Many have seen the movie and know the lines of the story, so there's little point in going over much of that detail. It is interesting to note a couple of places where the movie differs from the book, because it places the book in an even darker realm. For example, in the book Alex, the hero, is fifteen years old. The two girls he encounters in the record store are 10 years old--obviously not something Kubrick could place into his film.

Other than these major differences, the movie is largerly true to the book, emphasizing certain things (such as Alex's devotion to Beethoven, whereas in the book it's a general devotion to classical music) for cinematic effect. What the movie, and the American edition of the book, lack is the 21st chapter.

In the introduction to this edition of the book, Burgess makes the point that he wrote the novel as a novel, not as a fable. He felt that the twenty-first chapter in which we see Alex in quite a different light moved the character from one place to another that was more probable considering the wisdom that comes with age.

And I'd say, if that were your intent, Mr. Burgess, such movement should have started and been indicated long before the tail end of the book. I'm supposed to believe in the span of six or seven pages we've had a complete reform of life.

This is once again a place where we see the value of editors. When the American publishers sliced off the last chapter, they were making a comment about the strength of the book and the strength of Burgess' message, whether or not we agree with the message. They identified the true power and driver of the little tale, and if Mr. Burgess wanted to regard that as a fable, then so be it. But the reality is that his little fable, his truncated novel, is by far a more powerful work than most other novels, and certainly, made the novel and much finer work.

But it wasn't what the artist conceived--and I really do like to see what the artist thought the work should be. In almost every case, where there has been a good and insightful editor involved, the judicious edits made vastly improve the book. Of course everyone is aware of the work Maxwell Perkins did in making Thomas Wolfe (particularly Look Homeward, Angel readable. After reading Stephen King's uncut version of The Stand I gained a true appreciation for the value of a fine editor. King's larded, self-indulgent phantasmagoria of a novel has, I'm certain, charms all to itself; however, the sleeker, svelter, original publication is by far a more powerful book.

Not all editors enhance a manuscript. Not all editing improves--the editor must be someone who at once has a deep appreciation for the book in front of her or him, and also a deep appreciation for the English language and literature in general.

Editors have fallen by the wayside--it is evident in the plethora of books that could, at a minimum, use a continuity editor. But in the past , editors have made good decisions that have improved a work greatly. My own interactions with editors I have trusted and admired has lead to greatly improved manuscript and published copy. (There are many times when I wish that I could turn my blog over to an editor before publishing a single entry. Alas, it is not to be so.) The New York editors of Burgess' novel greatly improved it by removing the last chapter. However, I think it is also instructive to read what the author has written and understand what he thought the purpose of his work was, regardless of what the work actually accomplishes in itself.

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Editor's note: "marvelous Kindle" is redundant! :-)


I could talk about A Clockwork Orange all day!!! =D

It has been a while since I read the novel, but I think that the last chapter does drag the book into fable territory. I also don't like how inevitable the (relatively) happy ending is because of Alex's sudden conversion. In one of the last paragraphs, Alex compares the world to a clockwork orange--something uncomfortably like the complex watch of Deism, left to run out its mechanical course without any interference from its maker.

That paragraph alone--if not the whole chapter--seems to undermine the whole point about grace and free will. We know that Alex must freely choose the good or else he is not doing good at all. Yet with the original ending, he becomes a sort of slave to his age. He finally chooses the good, but again because he has to--kind of the way hair eventually turns grey. He had no control over that any more than he had control over his brainwashed self.

As for editing, it is as legitimate a literary skill as writing. I know that the Romance Writers of America honour both a book's author and its editor when they award their annual prizes. I don't know if other organisations do the same.

Hmm. I haven't read either the abridged or original versions of The Stand, but I have a friend who very much agrees with the author (Steven King) who believes that the publishers 'butchered' his original manuscript.

I am firmly convinced of the value of editing in a film. What you take out can really improve the book. And what you leave for sentimental or preachy reasons can weaken it.

What I find interesting here, is that are the first person I have encountered who has read both, and prefers the abridged one. Somehow I find that fascinating.

I also was led to believe that "The Stand" was not phantasmagorical, not filled with the tropes of horror novels. I have the big fat unabridged volume at home. I am not feeling like reading it now.

But I do feel motivated to read A Clockwork Orange. I have seen, but did not like the film. I hope I will enjoy the book.




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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on October 29, 2008 7:39 AM.

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