Monday, July 21, 2008

To Conclude:

I finished A Clockwork Orange. It's reasonably short. And I have to say that I think Burgess' American publisher was right. The 21st chapter is a letdown.

To summarize: If you remember the film, it ends with the spectacular line, "I was cured all right." So does the 20th chapter of the book. Old 21, cut from the American version, finds Alex with a new band of droogs, out causing mischief. But Alex starts to have the strange feeling that hooliganism isn't worth it anymore, and decides not to go out and do any ultraviolence that night. Walking alone, he sees Pete, a member of his former band, having dinner with a lady. It turns out that Pete grew up, got married, got some random job and is beginning to lead a swell little young adult life. After conversing with him, Alex decides that it's time to grow up himself, and that's that.

Burgess' intention was to write a philosophical novel, and it holds together for a long time. But in the last chapter, he lets fly all his worst traits -- that is, he stops being a writer and becomes somebody trying to make a point.

You may remember a bit when Alex is in jail and starts to enjoy the Bible -- the Old Testament, anyway, and its stories of fighting and sinning and lusting, not the New, which is a bunch of "preachy talking." The phrase is worded a little differently in the book, but the point is the same. Burgess himself, having crafted a compelling novella through the point of 20 chapters, can't help himself and gives way to preachy talking. It's really not even the character Alex talking anymore, it's just Burgess writing in the weird Gypsy slang, trying to make a non-hopeful work conclude on a hopeful note. Admirable, but totally forced.

I hate to say this, but sometimes editors are right.

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