An iPad app for A Clockwork Orange points to an exciting future for fiction, even if it threatens the authority of the writerby Leo Benedictus / October 17, 2012 / Leave a comment
The poster for Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film
A Clockwork Orange: 50th Anniversary Edition and iPad app
by Anthony Burgess (William Heinemann, £20)
Perhaps the most poignant kind of failure for a writer, among many strong contenders, is being remembered for the wrong book. It was a fate that Anthony Burgess felt coming. A Clockwork Orange was just “a jeu d’esprit knocked off for money in three weeks” he said, calling it “too didactic to be artistic.” Yet today the idea of Burgess as a major novelist is rarely even mentioned, while his violent fable on free will persists, a weathered landmark of our culture, his name still on it somewhere underneath the moss.
Burgess was too hard on himself, of course, if he was being serious. The plot of A Clockwork Orange, in which a thug and rapist is forcibly reprogrammed to mend his ways, may lack sophistication, but this is no defect, as it allows us to focus on the novel’s language. It is “nadsat,” the glorious Russo-Joycean slang that the narrator Alex speaks in—all those “droogs” and their “horrorshow tolchocking”—that lingers longest with most readers. For its wild distinctiveness, A Clockwork Orange absolutely merits this reissuing in hardback, and, most intriguingly, as an iPad app, on its 50th birthday.
For Burgess fans, or lapsed fans like me, the app especially is a delight to nose through. On opening it, you can read the book straightforwardly on the screen, or choose a facsimile of the original typescript with all his notes and doodles, or have the book read to you by Tom Hollander, who handles the nadsat with conviction. Or you can root around in a wealth of other oddments. There are video clips of diverse experts and famous fans, such as Martin Amis, who discuss the novel and read excerpts from it. There are articles, essays and reviews. There are rare radio recordings of Burgess himself. You can even trace the history of the novel’s first appearance through the scribbled memos of its original publishers at William Heinemann.
Taken together, this creates the furtive pleasure of being given an hour alone in Burgess’s attic. There’s a buzz when you notice him type, “A Clockwork Orange is very far from being my favourite book,” then cross out “very far from being” and instead add “not” in pen. At the…