Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess

I started listening to a recorded version of A Clockwork Orange. Normally, I prefer to read a classic the first time through, and then listen to it later if I feel like it, but I saw it while browsing at the library and just nabbed it. There is an introduction by the author and I'm sorry to report it's Burgess having one long tantrum.
Burgess starts by saying that Orange is his most popular book, due in large part to the film, but he feels it is not as good as many of his other works and he finds its popularity disappointing. He amassed a fortune off of it, but still resented it. I guess the America version left off the final chapter and Burgess was still spiting mad over it. He was even more offended that the Kubrick movie, although filmed in Britain, was based on the American version that ends with Alex not being reformed, despite the government's best attempts.
In the final chapter (the controversial missing in America chapter) Alex grows up, get married, has kids and regrets his violent youth. He wishes to create rather than destroy. The American publisher felt it was a stronger ending not to have Alex reform, or at least have his future uncertain.
I guess it never occurred to Burgess that he was allowed to be a rich old coot and keep working as a writer due to the success of the novel. (with or without the final chapter) It makes me think of Warren Zevon who, for years, complained that he was best know for Werewolves of London when he had written much better songs. Then, he finally realized that he was able to live a comfortable life and put his kids through college off of that song and he should be a little more grateful.
It cracks me up that Burgess is complaining that America forwent the happy ending. I can't begin to list how many times I've been randomly attack by European travelers because our films usually have happy endings. An America makes a film and leaves off the happy ending... Still criticized. Be that as it may, I am going to skip the end of Burgess' introduction and give the book a try. You'd think the guy could be a little more gracious about a book that supported him in a comfortable lifestyle for thirty years, but apparently not. I wonder if he would have been happier being unsuccessful.
Probably not.


  1. Have you read Burgess's Earthly Powers? It's a huge sprawling novel, quite a commitment. But I would put it in my top 10 of all time!

  2. I was thinking I would have to read more Burgess to see if I agreed with his opinion that he's written better stuff. Thanks for the suggestion.