Book Nook: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

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Oh, it was gorgeousness and gorgeosity made flesh. The trombones crunched redgold under my bed, and behind my gulliver the trumpets three-wise silverflamed, and there by the door the timps rolling through my guts and out again crunched like candy thunder. Oh, it was wonder of wonders. And then, a bird of like rarest spun heavenmetal, or like silvery wine flowing in a spaceship, gravity all nonsense now, came the violin solo above all the other strings, and those strings were like a cage of silk round my bed. Then flute and oboe bored, like worms of like platinum, into the thick thick toffee gold and silver. I was in such bliss, my brothers.

A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1962), Anthony Burgess’s most famous work, suffered from notoriety and controversy when Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation (1971) shocked its audience as it seemed to have glorified violence. The film received critical acclaim and gained cult following. Clockwork Orange was then linked to increasing crime rates and was banned. This “misunderstanding” caused by the film made Burgess disown the book, with him saying that he should have not written it because of the dangers of misinterpretation. Though chosen by TIME magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels, Burgess dismissed Clockwork Orange as a minor work undeserving of its fame, which all the while overshadowed his other major works.

Inspired by the juvenile delinquency of the early 1960s, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and with the rise of the sci-fi genre, the prolific British author Anthony Burgess wrote A Clockwork Orange, a short, transgressive dystopian satire. It was narrated in “Nadsat” language—an imaginary teenage slang invented by Burgess from his studies of Russian—by the Beethoven-loving young thug Alex. Along with his three “droogs”—that is, Pete, Georgie, Dim—the fifteen-year-old Alex leads a life of violence—stealing, beating people, raping, and committing murder with gleeful countenance—until he gets arrested and sentenced fourteen years in prison.

Two years later, still desperate to get out and blind to the repercussions, he was selected to be a test subject for the “Ludovico’s technique,” a Pavlovian conditioning treatment for criminals, and was promised to be released from prison in a fortnight. Afterward, Alex is conditioned to feel sick, paralyzed, and dying whenever he thinks of anything evil. The novel continues with Alex being freed but now deprived of free will.

(In the US edition, the last chapter, which the editors thought unnecessary, is omitted against Burgess’s will.)

Through extreme violence and depravity, Burgess probes the ancient and imperishable philosophical problems of free will, moral choice, and the grinding entities of good and evil in the battleground of man’s heart: “Does God want goodness or the choice of goodness?”

Both a linguist and a musical composer, Burgess has flawlessly orchestrated the linguistic feats in A Clockwork Orange, a reminiscent of what James Joyce did on Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. With his unorthodox mastery of language, Burgess has innovated literature and was called as one of the few and inimitable literary geniuses of all time.

(Published on Sunstar Cebu ’ZUP Page Book Nook: November 15, 2015)

Book Nook: Lord of the Flies by William Golding

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“I’m scared of him, and that’s why I know him. If you’re scared of someone you hate him but you can’t stop thinking about him. You kid yourself he’s all right really, an’ then when you see him again; it’s like asthma an’ you can’t breathe…”

LORD OF THE FLIES, written by the Nobel laureate William Golding, is a frightening and influential work of fiction. The macabre maestro Stephen King wrote in his introduction to the book, “Flies always represented what novels are for…not just entertainment, but life and death… The writer’s imagination becomes the reader’s reality.”

First published in 1954, Lord of the Flies is an allegory of man’s descent from cultured, rational thinking to primitive, bloodthirsty savagery. The story took place at the dawn of an atomic war. A plane was shot down, and it crashed on an uninhabited tropical island. The survivors, all schoolboys, were scattered around until the loud, deep blasts from a conch called them together.

Led by Ralph, whom they later voted as chief (unanimously because he had the conch), they formed an assembly and discussed on what to do in the island, how to survive and get rescued. But “the delight of a realized ambition” overcame them—the freedom of having “no grownups” around. This sudden liberation from adult supervision made it difficult for their chief to manage the group, and even himself.

Days of blistering heat and cool, dark nights passed; the boys went on with their daily tasks: playing, building shelters, hunting, keeping fire. Then the littluns (little ones) experienced terrors from imaginary monsters and nightmares the island evoked at night. There’s a “beast” out there, but the biguns (big ones), though anxious, said there was none and even sought out to kill it.

Turmoil stemmed from juvenile misunderstandings. Jack (the head of the “hunters”) grew vehement toward Ralph’s leadership. Thus disorder broke out, splitting the boys into two groups, which soon led to brutality and Ralph’s weeping for the “end of innocence.”

Lord of the Flies’s theme is an attempt “to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature.” The story is an experiment—a group of schoolboys stranded in an island without the guidance of adults—and what’s exposed is the basic wildness lurking within man’s heart, a dormant savagery awakened by the warm spilling of blood; this is what the Freudians call Id, the perpetually repressed “anarchic, amoral” unconscious drive.

Cunningly crafted by the author, the title Lord of the Flies is a translation of the Greek Beelzebub, a name for the devil.

With its dense naturalistic imagery and layers of symbolisms, Lord of the Flies is a masterwork, a modern classic, though an infinitely cynical portrayal of human condition.

(Published on Sunstar Cebu ’ZUP Page Book Nook: October 25, 2015)