Anthony Burgess’s stinging indictment of the totalitarian/socialist state is remarkably prescient about the future social scenario i.e., the present day – terrorism, cruelty and sadism of IS on TV, synthetic drugs, ADHD in children, digital time in contrast to analogue time. Seeing that it was published in 1962, the sybilline nature of the SMS language, propaganda and subliminal penetration is coming true.
Perhaps the most fascinating thing about the book it’s language. Alex thinks and talks in the nadsat (teenage) vocabulary of the future. It can be described as odd bits of old rhyming slang, a bit of gypsy patois, too. But most of the roots are Slav.
Anthony Burgess has not used Russian words perfunctorily, but with great ingenuity, as the Swiftian transformation into gulliver suggests. Others are brilliantly anglicized: khorosho (good or well) as horrowshow; ludi (people) as lewdies; militsia (militia or police) as millicents.
Kopat (to dig with a shovel) is used as dig in the sense of enjoy or under-stand; koshka (cat) and ptitsa (bird) become the hippie cat and chick; neezhny (lower) turns into neezhnies (underpants); pooshka (cannon) becomes the term for a pistol; rozha (grimace) turns into rozz, one of the words for policeman; samyi (the most) becomes sammy (generous); soomka (bag) is the slang for a hag; vareet (to cook up) is the slang for preparation or some transpiring event.
The gypsy patois includes Alex’s invocation O my brothers, and crark (to howl), cutter (money), filly (to fool with).
The rhyming slang includes luscious glory for hair (rhyming with upper story) and pretty polly for money (rhyming with lolly).
Others are clever associations, such as cancer for cigarette (prophetically, before it became conventionally accepted that cigarettes caused lung and other cancers) and charlie for chaplain.
Simple schoolboy transformations produced: appy polly loggy (apology), baddiwad (bad), eggiweg (egg), skolliwoll (school), whereas some words are just amputations of common English words: guff (guffaw), pee and em (pop and mom), sarky (sarcastic), sinny (cinema). Finally, there are portmanteau words like: chumble (chatter-mumble), mounch (mouth-munch), shive (shiv-shave), skirking (striking-scratching).
The protagonist, despite his tendencies for gratuitous violence, paradoxically loves classical music. He unwinds with Beethoven, Mozart after a bout of savagery. However, without giving away too much of the plot, during Alex”s rehabilitation, this one thing that he holds dear is cruelly wrested away from him.
This is once in a lifetime book that ranks alongside Joyce’s Ulysses (although it reads more like Finnegan’s Wake), Heller’s Catch 22 or Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.