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Penguin Classics on A Clockwork Orange

Throughout Into the Unknown, in partnership with Penguin Classics, we’ll be presenting a series of book club events each focussing on an iconic title from Science Fiction.

First up, Anthony Burgess’ 1962 dystopian novel, A Clockwork Orange.

Henry Eliot, Creative Editor of Penguin Classics, chairs a with journalist, performer and award-winning writer A. L. Kennedy and Professor Andrew Biswell, Director of the International Burgess Foundation, Professor of Modern Literature at Manchester Metropolitan University and editor of A Clockwork Orange: The Restored Edition.

Renowned for Burgess’ invented slang, censored in the US on its release for ‘objectionable language’ and later adapted for the big screen by Stanley Kubrick in 1971, here’s an introduction to Burgess’ still relevant – and still controversial – novel:

About A Clockwork Orange

Alex is fifteen years old. He has a taste for cravats, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, milk-plus, rape and ultra-violence. He speaks ‘Nadsat’ with his gang of droogs as they prowl the city, high on synthemesc, looting, assaulting and scuffling with other gangs. On a joyride in the countryside, they break into a cottage and rape a young woman, beating her husband, a writer, who is working on a book called A Clockwork Orange.

Burgess wrote A Clockwork Orange in three weeks, in Hove, where he was convalescing after five years abroad with the British Colonial Service. On his return to England he was struck by the growing number of teenage gangs and the new fad for coffee shops. He later said the book was inspired by a memory of his first wife Lynne, who had been beaten by a gang of inebriated American servicemen stationed in England during World War II.

After his droogs turn against him, Alex is arrested and undergoes the mind-altering Ludovico Technique, leaving him at the mercy of his former friends and enemies, as well as raising questions about the nature of free will and the limits of state intervention.

Of course, Burgess’s novel was the basis for one of the most notorious films ever made. Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation has indelibly superimposed A Clockwork Orange with a set of disturbing, iconic images, a vibrating, synthesised soundtrack and an urban acid-trip setting.


Buy your copy of A Clockwork Orange, published by Penguin Classics – with a limited edition Barbican inspired front cover from the Barbican Shop. Browse the full set of books here.

Penguin Classics Book Club: A Clockwork Orange takes place on Thursday 29 June

Into the Unknown: A Journey Through Science Fiction takes place 3 June–1 September