Monday, February 19, 2007

A Clockwork Orange

Spent the last week in Belgium and previous week in Vegas and parts of San Diego. Not a huge Vegas fan, but San Diego, especially if you've got a view of the bay, can be pretty relaxing. Anyhow, the two shots posted above are from Belgium. The top is from the town square in the villiage of Brugge, which is in the Flemish (Dutch) part of the country. The bottom is the Atonium or something in Brussels which was built for a World's Fair in the 1950s. We went up in it. Nothing too great. Brugge seemed pretty cool and only reaffirmed my desire to visit Amsterdam someday... Anyways, I was pretty sick the whole time I was there, with a stomach thing and a cold. It didn't help that I didn't get my luggage until Thursday night, after the gala meeting I attended in jeans and a shirt I bought out of some shop across the street from my hotel. Did I mention that European people like to wear suits, and I had packed one for the occasion? I came across as quite the "American" in my duds...

Then there is this thing about heat in Europe. It was about 40-50 degrees during the day in Belgium, which I understand was nowhere near as cold as it was here. But, Europeans seem to have something against forced air heat, as I could never get the temperature properly adjusted except for half of one night in my hotel room. Then, on Saturday, I went out for a "coffee" appointment and the gents I was with suggested taking it in an outdoor cafe. I think the key to this aversion to heat is the fact alcholic drinks run pretty much as same price as soft drinks, so you might as well go for the internal warmth and damn the heaters. Normally, I would have had no problem with this, but with my stomach, my drinking capacity was down substantially...

Anyways, I tried to rest a bit and did manage with the help of travel time to finish Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange. Quite likely, you’ve seen the movie version, which I did a number of years ago. However, for some reason, as it does from time to time, a bug had gotten into me to read the book. So, I checked it out of the Ridge Library and off I went.

Now, there appears to be a bit of a discrepancy, and maybe even a bit of controversy between the novel and movie. You see in the U.S. published book on which the movie is based, Chapter 21 is removed. Chapter 21 functions as sort of the denouement, or falling action. If you remove it, you end up with this real horror show (to use Alex’s terminology) ending, where the main character is pretty much back where he started. The extra chapter, in fact, shows him maturing a bit and growing away from this character.

Here’s what Burgess has to say about that (in the intro to the second U.S. book version.): “There is in fact, not much point in writing a novel unless you can show the possibility of moral transformation, or an increase in wisdom, operating in your chief character or characters….

“When a fictional work fails to show change, when it merely indicates that human character is set, stony, unregenerable, then you are out of the field of the novel and into that of the fable or the allegory.”

If this is the case then, it's my call that A Clockwork Orange works great as a fable or allegory, but not as a novel, because the last “extra” chapter seems forced and really doesn’t draw on the rest of the story very well. It’s like Burgess wrote 20 chapters to come to this perfect fable ending, then realized he hadn’t shown any change and tacked this last one on.

Burgess claims this 21st chapter was always planned, but it sure didn't come across as very connected to me. I’ll let the poor guy rest, as he’s probably dead now and did say in the intro he was a bit embarrassed by the novel and all the attention it garnered. He thought he had many works that were much better Poor chap.




stan langerhaus said...

I quite agree Ralph. I was a fan of both the movie and book when I was younger.

I remember when Rolling Stone first published the "lost" final chapter sometime in the late '80s. And it was supposed to be some kind of relevation.

But to me it also seemed totally disjointed from the original idea of the novel. Just some addendum that had no purpose to the plot or thesis of the book.

Is it true that the non-U.S. version of the story always contained the "final" chapter? Or do you think that it was something that Burgess cooked up to keep the royalties coming in?

Ralph said...

Wow. I kind of believed Burgess crap about the perfect symmetry of the number 21 - 7 chapters in each of three parts... and yes, that's the story, that Chapter 21 appeared originally in all but the American version, which is the one Kubrick worked off.