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Amidst the hullabaloo of Edward Snowden’s revelations of the US government snooping on its own citizens and those of foreign countries, George Orwell’s 1984 has been mentioned countless times and how he was right in predicting the government’s role of the Big Brother. Another author depicted a dystopian future wherein the government had a different sort of control over you-controlling your violent instincts. While the government spying on one’s phone calls, emails, social networking data is not a comforting feeling, the government actually controlling how you behave is even more disconcerting.

Clockwork Orange, a novel by Anthony Burgess, explores precisely this aspect of control. Alex, the anti-hero of the novel, is a the narrator and refers to himself as “Your Humble Narrator.” He narrates his and his pals’ violent escapades in a nameless town where such violence by teens is rampant. They engage in brutal violence-assaulting, stealing, beating and sexual violence during the night. On one such escapade, Alex and his gang decide to rob a single woman living with dozens of cats. However, the plan goes awry as Alex’s usual ruse of acting like a wounded boy and fooling the woman to open the door fails. He then goes through the window and threatens her but the old woman isn’t frightened so easily. She seems to get time to call the police and eventually in a fight, Alex gives a fatal blow. The police picks him up and he is shunted to the prison for a good 14 years. It is here Alex learns of a miraculous technique that will reform him quickly and let him get out of jail in no time. The prison chaplain, the only decent person around, warns of this so-called-miraculous Ludovico Technique and of its ethical ambiguity. Due to a turn of events, Alex is eventually subjected to this technique which is torturous in its own way and has terrible consequences for our Humble Narrator.

Written in the “Nadsat” language, which is the lingo used by the teens of that world, Clockwork Orange is a gruesome look at the politics of control and surveillance and raises questions about the need for an individual to have a choice in the way s/he behaves. Ludovico Technique essentially conditions Alex to have sickening feelings for anything related to violence. It ‘cures’ him of his bad behaviour by leaving him with no choice but to be good because being bad or even thinking of violence entails a rising of aversion in him. Burgess cleverly shows how the government’s method of reducing crime by relying on such ethically questionable techniques is not a foolproof method but only raises more problems rather than resolving them. For example, if Alex is faced with a situation where he has to defend himself he is absolutely helpless since he cannot resort to violence as he has been conditioned to be averse to it.

To complicate the plot further, Alex after being ‘cured’ is used by certain individuals for their own personal gains-namely to show that the present government is using such brutal techniques in the reduction of crime. Alex becomes a trophy prize over which politically motivated parties and individuals tussle, leaving behind the core of the problem-if the Ludovico Technique is not morally correct and the usual punishment of imprisonment also fails, then how exactly to reduce the rate of crime and violence in a world where youngsters are increasingly setting up sub cultures of crime and violence.

Clockwork Orange doesn’t answer those questions outright. Instead the story explores the ideas of the nature of evil and if it is really possible for the government to control the individual’s violent inclinations and urges through conditioning techniques. The book shows how the government treats people like machines, like ‘clockworks’ that can be tweaked to make a better, crime-free society. We have already seen in the 20th and 21st centuries how the media has been effectively used to tweak people’s way of thinking and getting their support on certain politically important matters (For eg, it is thanks to the relentless media proclamations of US’ war on terror that the entire globe sees the Middle East as merely a part of the world crawling with terrorists out to attack America while completely disregarding their own unique culture. Closer home, the media is often used in India to mobilise people’s opinion for the ambiguous notions of ”development” and “growth” while cleverly trying to put down all those who clash against these ideas). It is not just the media alone, mainstream culture-whether it is books, movies or art-all are effectively used by the government to mould people’s opinions for or against something. Therefore, it is perhaps not far away that the governments all over the world will be able to control its citzens’ behaviour. And that would indeed be a scary prospect.

Though small in size, Clockwork Orange may not be a breeze to read thanks to the “nadsat” words that Burgess uses which can be understood only by referring to the glossary every once in a while. It can be frustrating because while you want to get on with the story(which moves at a good pace), you have to pause and find out the meanings first but be patient and it will definitely be worth it. It will take time to accustom yourself to the language but once you are attuned to it, it will be an easy and enlightening read. Try and read this one-it is relevant and will always be because no government has come close to curbing violence among its people. So while you figure out what “droog”, “carmen”, “chasha,” malchick,” ‘mesto” etc mean, don’t forget to also ponder over the subtexts of the story.

I heard about the author, Sue Grafton, when I read the book, ‘Chicken Soup For The Writer’s Soul.’ It mentions her story, about how she got her works published which was mainly a collection of mystery fiction of what came to be known as ‘the alphabet series’ as each novel had an alphabet in its title.

Taken from fantasticfiction.co.uk

When I came across one of the novels, ‘L for Lawless‘, in the college library, I excitedly picked it up hoping to be treated to an excellent thriller. However, my hopes, though not completely dashed, but nonetheless they were subdued. The novel was a bit uninspiring and did not motivate me to read her other novels.

L for Lawless‘ stars her usual private investigator, Kinsey Millhone. The novel begins with her narrating how she got involved in this mystery and how she regrets it. She recalls how it all started when a friend, Henry Pitts, asked her to look into late Johnny Lee’s mysterious absence of records in the Army Office when in fact he was a World War 2 fighter pilot. He had recently died and his grandson, Bucky, wanted a decent funeral paid for by the Armed Services. This request seemed harmless, a little bit of snooping around would have easily solved the problem or so Kinsey thought. Each passing day, a new aspect of Johnny’s life was unearthed and she found herself sinking deeper into his mucky past. A couple of break-ins in his house signaled even more mysterious trouble which Ray Rawson, an apparently old friend, helped Kinsey to understand. As she plunged into solving this ‘easy’ problem she found more criminal shadows in both Rawson’s and Lee’s past and unfortunately a brutal killer was set on her trail!

The novel, ‘L for Lawless‘ has great twists and turns, an easy weekend read, does not test the reader’s intelligence, a good time pass.

What didn’t work for me was the countless descriptions. Some of them are essential to move the plot but some just drag the pace. For eg, while Kinsey was in an airport, walking towards the convener belt, a dozen descriptions of what she observes is mentioned but that could be easily avoided as her observations in no way help her solve the case or move forward with it atleast.

I don’t know why, but when I was reading the book, I felt a nagging in my head that I was reading just an older version of Nancy Drew. Don’t get me wrong, it is not kiddish or a rosy book. It has its own set of blood and gore and definite shock and surprises.

The story is good but somehow does not click with me. I feel it is a bit amateurish. There are several other thrillers that are much more engaging and intelligent.

 

Reading 933 pages of the ‘Shantaram‘ novel can be tedious especially when you do not have the time and are only reading 2 or 3 chapters per day. Nevertheless, ‘Shantaram‘ is an interesting novel. A novel that takes the reader through Mumbai’s ugliest places and the grim and the dust of the city to the paradise of Goa to the cold, brutal Afghan mountains.

Shantaram‘ I think is a partly true story of the author, Gregory David Roberts who escaped from an Australian prison. The novel speaks of his entry into the then Bombay and his journey through the city. The protagonist mingles with people in Leopold, is forced to stay in a slum, starts a clinic there and even comes to enjoy his life in the slum. He joins the mafia to earn cash, gets involved in gang war and the war in Afghanistan. He comes to love India and learns valuable lessons of life as well. The book ends on a hopeful message giving a grand message simultaneously.

Its a one of a kind novel where India in general and Mumbai in particular can be seen from a different perspective of a foreigner. India or Mumbai are neither degraded nor are they glorified unnecessarily but are portrayed objectively with plus and minus points. For once, it is good to see an author describing Mumbai’s slums, Arthur Road Jail etc. and not romantically babbling about only Marine Drive, Gateway or Taj. (I mean Mumbai is much more than those things).

On the other hand, the novel was a tad too long. Gregory Roberts could have easily shortened the story. There are a few loose ends like whether the author goes back to Australia or stays back in Mumbai and if he does, what does he do–be with the mafia or start something else. (Hopefully he will write a sequel soon with lesser pages though).

So I say that ‘Shantaram‘ is a good book but read it when you have all the time in the world. Reading the book slowly drags the story and takes the pace out of it.

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