alobear (alobear) wrote,

Car Chases, zombies and ultraviolence!

The stars aligned for the July category of the The Wordy Birds Reading Challenge. It was to read a book published before I was born, so I decided to go for A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess, which would also fit into January's category, because it's been on my reading shelf for well over a year. Then, I discovered, the Barbican Centre was doing a book club over the summer, and the first book was A Clockwork Orange, so I duly bought a ticket.

I read the book in four days and found it fascinating how easy it was to pick up the meaning from context, even though many of the words were unfamiliar. It has a very strong narrative voice in Alex, the teenage delinquent who runs a gang of droogs, committing ultraviolence just for the fun of it. The central discussion of whether the state has the right to curtail its citizens free will isn't subtle - in fact, groups of characters debate the question on multiple occasions throughout the book. But that doesn't make it any less interesting. I particularly liked the character of the author, who is writing a book called A Clockwork Orange, and represents the distinction between ideals and personal opinion. On a level of principle, he is very much against the government brainwashing criminals into being unable to commit violence. However, once he discovers Alex is the boy who caused the death of his wife, he immediately wants to exact violent revenge, because being a victim of crime necessarily alters your viewpoint.

The very end seemed tacked on, and I very much disagreed with the new argument it presented, so I was interested to discover at the Barbican discussion that Burgess added it in later, and left it to his editors to decide whether or not to include it. The Barbican event was excellent - really interesting and a great opportunity to gain further insight into an excellent and very challenging book. I got over my usual shyness of speaking in public, and actually was by far the most vocal audience member. So, overall, my experience of reading A Clockwork Orange was multi-layered and intellectually stimulating.

I then moved on to Zone One by Colson Whitehead, which sounds from the blurb on the back like it's going to be a very silly parody of the zombie genre. The confused Amazon reviews made a lot more sense when I started reading it and discovered that it's actually densely descriptive and very pretentious in a classically literary fashion. It jumps around in time a lot, with very little sign-posting, so it's very hard to follow as a linear story. But then it's really more of a meditation on the potential mental health repercussions of surviving a zombie apocalypse, combined with biting satire of modern life and bureaucracy, than it is a coherent story. It's a beautifully rendered mosaic, but the pattern is too busy in places to make out the picture clearly. The last twenty pages were very compelling and it turned out I had gradually become very invested in the characters along the way. It's pretty bleak, all told, but very well constructed and beautifully executed. I'm just not sure that there are that many readers who fit into the Venn diagram crossover of deeply pretentious literary fiction and zombie apocalypse novels. Luckily, I very much do, so I appreciated it on all levels, but I think most people would reject it for being both when they are looking for just the one.

On Friday night, I went to see Baby Driver at the cinema. I had heard very good things about from multiple sources, and was very intrigued. And the first ninety minutes had a lot going for it. The plot was exciting and pacy (though riddled with cliche), the performances were good (Ansel Elgort in particular did a very great deal with not very much at all), and the choreography of the action to fit the music was entertaining and clever. Then, in my view, the last twenty-five minutes went rather awry. It got considerably more violent, and hugely more ridiculous (not in a good way) and I was left feeling very much unfulfilled. But then, I'm not sure what I was expecting, since it's an Edgar Wright film. The run-up was perfect, the vault itself was very well executed - and then he fluffed the landing. And, sadly, that has often been my experience of his films. Oh well.
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