Book: A Clockwork Orange
Author: Anthony Burgess
Published: 1986 (this edition--Norton Paperbacks)
There's nothing to fear about this book; the slang is omnipresent but easily penetrated, while at the same time enough to keep the violence at an abstract distance. Which I guess is one facet of the point, another of course being the extra chapter that was originally left out of the American edition (and, consequently, Stanley Kubrick's movie adaptation).
(Side note: After reading this, I want to watch the Kubrick movie to see how it stacks up to The Great Shining Debate, which is when Liberry Tom says Kubrick's The Shining is a great movie because it's shot so well and I say it sucks because it completely misses the point of the source material.)
I wasn't super shocked by anything in here. It's a fairly straightforward plot: brutal young man gets off on doing violent things to people, gets caught, gets put into mind-altering therapy that gives him visceral reactions to violence, tries to get right back into it, gets depressed and tired of it.
That's not to say I didn't like reading about all that. It's still a fascinating journey, and it's all in the narrator. This book is one of the strongest arguments I've read for the importance of unique character voice. Alex goes from simple to sick to existential, all his confusion wrapped in his comforting blanket of slang whose familiarity isn't nearly enough to protect him from the changes forced on his emotions. He remains a sympathetic character in a way that makes me feel like a terrible person for saying that, which means he's very well-written. A well-written sociopath.
The last chapter--I don't see how it's such a controversy. It's the logical, if somewhat muted, continuation of Alex's life. Leaving it out could be seen as approving such violence that he's gotten back into, or at least saying that it's an inevitable part of decaying society, but it's made clear that even though he's pushed past his conditioning, Alex won't be able to sustain his sociopathic behavior for much longer without it taking an even more crushing toll.
Anyway, go read this and see if you can tease out the metaphor for clockwork oranges. I didn't get that bit.