- Author: Anthony Burgess (1917 – 1993)
- Rank: #89
- Published: 1962
- Publisher: William Heinemann
- Pages: 219 (Ballantine paperback)
- First Line: ” ‘What’s it going to be then, eh?’ “
- Last Lines: “O my brothers, remember sometimes thy little Alex that was. Amen. And all that cal.”
- ML Edition: none
- Film: 1971 – **** (dir. Stanley Kubrick) – #1 film of the year
- Acclaim: Modern Library Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century (#65), All-TIME List
- Read: Spring, 1993
The Novel: So which version should I discuss? The original novel had 21 chapters, with three parts of seven chapters each. So to anyone with a sense of symmetry, it must have seemed odd when the American version had two parts of seven chapters and a final part with only six chapters, especially since all three parts begin with the same line (ironically, so does that last chapter). Just as it must have seemed strange to British audiences when the film suddenly ended with a whole chapter of the book left out. The American publishers argued that American audiences wouldn’t buy into the moral growth of Alex in the last chapter, a far cry from today when it is so often argued that American audiences are incapable of dealing with anything other than a happy ending. Burgess himself argues that the novel is not complete without the final chapter: “When a fictional work fails to show changes, when it merely indicates that human characters is set, stony, unregenerable, then you are out of the field of the novel and into that of the fable or the allegory. The American of Kubrickian Orange is a fable; the British or world one is a novel.”
With all due respect to Burgess, that’s a bunch of crap. To show that some people are incapable of growth, that the attempts of the world to batter someone into a specific type of moral growth, only to fail because of the baseness of human nature is not to reduce something to fable. That the novel manages to work on both levels says something about what it is an artistic whole. Because it does work on both levels. It works on the level of stark brutal realism, that the attempts of a society to change those who are the darkest and lowest within to conform to their own values can fail is to follow in the footsteps of Hardy and Dreiser with a science-fiction aspect to it. That young Alex could go from such a brutal criminal, to the kind of prisoner who would believe “And what, brothers, I had to escape into sleep from then was the horrible and wrong feeling that it was better to get the hit than give it,” only to see it all slip away, is not to leave the artistic form of a novel. This Alex is fully believable when he comes to what American audiences saw as his final narrative words: “And there was the slow movement and the lovely last singing movement still to come. I was cured all right.”
But Burgess wrote more, of course. He wrote that last chapter where Alex begins to grow. He comes to believe “youth is only being in a way like it might be an animal.” He does grow and learn to grasp adulthood. And yes, this turns it from a dark science-fiction tale of an attempted utopia into a tale of one brutal youth’s growth into a man. But does that automatically changes this from a fable into a novel? Either way, this is one of the great novels of all-time, with its new forms of language, the entirely new vocabulary which was then immortalized on film and narrative from the point of view of such a horrible, violent youth.
The Film: Because I’ve already reviewed it here and will review it again when I get to the 1971 Best Picture nominees, I’ll leave this two reviews to stand for my views on the film.