Thursday, 21 August 2008

A Clockwork Apple - Belinda Webb

Even before you open this book, you can tell you are in for a treat. That someone would tackle Burgess and give us a new version of his tale is bold enough. That the author produces a work that stands nowhere in the shadow of Burgess, but blazes with its own fierce light is extremely satisfying. I like A Clockwork Orange. I like A Clockwork Apple a whole lot more.

Belinda Webb has succeeded in creating a future for our own time. Or maybe it is a parallel. Whatever the case, it is plausible, richly textured and so akin to the urban world outside the window that is hard, at times, to separate the fiction from the fact.

This is not a pastiche or slavish reworking of Orange. The female protagonist of Apple is very much her own grrrl. The author has given a female perspective to the world and to the tale of disaffected youth, if one can put it so mildly – although grrrl Alex is not the violent auteur of Burgess, her one crime is to have the temerity to be her own person and defend herself against the slings and arrows.

In addition to creating her own vision, Belinda Webb has achieved another rare thing in books these days. She has written well. That may seem faint praise, but good, fluent intelligent writing is a rarity these, especially when it is there in service of telling a story rather than attempting to dazzle the reader with the technical skill of the author. And as if that wasn’t enough, the sustained first person narrative speaks with a genuine voice.

There is anger here, fire in the belly. It is tightly controlled both by the author and by her protagonist. Alex, for some (other characters and some readers alike), is a paradox. How can someone of such obvious erudition, intelligence, even wisdom, be so explosive? To me, the real question is why more people of such insight are not the same. How can people properly understand the society in which we live and not be angry?

As well as depth, as well as giving your conscience a bit of a kicking, this book is fun. I enjoyed reading it, and that has been a rare experience with new books of late. Beautifully crafted, it is stuffed with references and clever word play, all of which help to build a book with characters and an environment of great depth. Of course, dystopian literature is not to everyone’s taste, but an intelligent and well written book such as this is worth picking up for the joy of reading something that entertains and makes you think.