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Belinda Webb: A Clockwork Apple

There’s an old idiom that states you can’t compare apples to oranges but in the case of Belinda Webb’s A Clockwork Apple (2008) you can’t help compare it to Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, purely because it follows the source so closely. However, there are wholesale changes for the sake of parody, notably the inversion of genders, so that rather than teenage boys running amok, Webb’s dystopia is populated by teenage girls.

Alex, and her three Grrrlz – Petra, Georgia, and Mid (“Mid being really mid”) – live in Moss Side, a deprived area in the city of Manchester, referred to as Madchester. The people are weaned on addiction therapy, shown on the Recovery Channel, and left without the opportunities that the middle classes, nicknamed the Blytons, are privy to. So, as teenagers are wont to do, they lash out in anger, doling out beatings and kicking in windows with their ballet pumps:

…we aren’t sponsored by the state to fight, only by our own H.P.’s [higher powers]- to fight to honour our Phrontisteries. Or, at the very least, to avenge the dismissal and frustration of said Phrontisteries.

The obvious target of Alex’s rage takes in the current fascination with the world of celebrity:

Most of our fellow Gutshot Rebos patrons, girlies and boys alike, are loafing around reading, not proper stuff, but looking at pictures, tabloid barathrums that they are, like theyz still in the ickle wickle nursery school. Theyz hypnotised by pictures of girls and boys who have made it and who are saying with their new capped smiles, ‘Look at me, aren’t I clever, don’t you want what I’ve got?

The “proper stuff” is what marks Alex out from the rest. Where A Clockwork Orange‘s Alex would lose himself in classical music, A Clockwork Apple’s Alex keeps under the bedroom floorboards her “stash of mind power” – books. In literature she plays with Nietzschean aphorisms, or references the likes of Raymond Carver, Richard Yates, and Jack London. But it all seems little more than name-dropping as, while Alex may revere them, they don’t seem to have enhanced her character in any way. Indeed, it seems strange that someone smart enough to enjoy literature should speak in such a way. Where Burgess plundered the Russian language for his nadsat, Alex’s voice is a tiring concoction of urban slang, obscure words, and something approaching nursery rhyme patois, all punctuated with, or variations thereof, braying laughter: hee hee haw haw. If this is how the smart ones talk, then Webb’s dystopia is certainly a grim future.

After breaking into Mrs Gaskell’s Academy for Girls, Alex finds herself in prison and with an option to enter a twelve step rehabilitation programme. This brings up the question of Alex’s anger, of how to accept it and address it. She’s angry at the state, she’s angry at her drunken mother, she’s angry at everything, and has chosen to show it:

Coz, you see, inwards meanz you are creating more problems for yourself, on behalf of THEM, whereas OUTWARDS meanz you’re creating problems for THEM, where it belongs. Where it longs to be. Depression or expression? Which is it to be, my dear sistaz? Which?

It’s hard to care about Alex as her opinions on literature come off quite flat, and her presence lacks a third dimension. As a narrator, however, she does express a certain flair for the English language, playing with words and dropping in cultural references, although sometimes dwelling too long that they become stretched. Sadly, where part of the joy of A Clockwork Orange was coming across a nadsat word and understanding it from its context, in A Clockwork Apple referring to the enclosed glossary is necessary.

Were Alex’s vocabulary relaxed from the tirades of swearing that spew from her filthy mouth, A Clockwork Apple could perhaps have cut itself some slack as a teen novel. It’s the book of an author who has graduated from the nineties and, finding the 21st Century a disappointment, wants to shout about it. At its heart there’s an obvious love for Burgess’ novel, A Clockwork Apple, shadowing it all the way, with punchy inversions and sly references. But while oranges are not the only fruit, there really is no comparison.

July 14, 2008

9 responses to Belinda Webb: A Clockwork Apple

  1. Gem said:

    I picked this one up last month and didn’t finish it – after a while the theyz and the hee haws got very annoying. I confess to buying it only because of the Will Self quote on the cover, shame on me. Mind you, not that I have actually read anything by Will Self but seem to have developed a fondness for him because of his infamous encounter with Richard Littlejohn.
    Is A Clockwork Apple aimed at the YA market, Stewart?

  2. Stewart said:

    Gem, we are not alone in this. A quick search on Google pulls up this review in the Independent where the reviewer summarises and rejects it in three paragraphs.

    I actually gave up on it the first time I tried it back in April, but put it down to a reading rut I’d got myself into where I would pick up a book, read a few pages, and set it aside. Three and a half months later and I’m only just pulling myself out of that rut.

    As for YA market, I don’t know much about that area, but I would think that the liberal spread of swearing would factor it out of that area, which is a shame, as the rebelious teenage girl angle would perhaps suit that younger demographic. Thatz what I sphinx anywayz.

  3. jem said:

    I’m interested in books that borrow from, continue or invert other books. But I worry if its not rather lazy literature. If the author does it well it can be enjoyable and fun, but this sounds like its trying a bit too hard and falling far short.

  4. Gem said:

    Stewart, I saw that review earlier and had a good laugh. I hadn’t thought of the swearing,it is a shame because it could have worked quite well for that market. Ah well.

    Jem,
    I find derivative fiction interesting too, at least when it is done well – Neil Gaiman’s short story A Study in Emerald pops immediately to mind as does Jasper Fforde’s series of books which are just frothy good fun. Your post has also reminded me that I have Kathy Acker’s Don Quixote here somewhere waiting to be read – it’s a feminist take on Miguel de Cervantes’ tale.

  5. Stewart said:

    Gem and Jem: what are the chances?

  6. Gem said:

    hehe.

  7. Pingback: CreateSomething

  8. Jane Air said:

    I think it’s definately worth a look. Great title.

  9. Stewart said:

    How so, Jane?

Leave a Reply

9 responses to Belinda Webb: A Clockwork Apple

  1. Gem said:

    I picked this one up last month and didn’t finish it – after a while the theyz and the hee haws got very annoying. I confess to buying it only because of the Will Self quote on the cover, shame on me. Mind you, not that I have actually read anything by Will Self but seem to have developed a fondness for him because of his infamous encounter with Richard Littlejohn.
    Is A Clockwork Apple aimed at the YA market, Stewart?

  2. Stewart said:

    Gem, we are not alone in this. A quick search on Google pulls up this review in the Independent where the reviewer summarises and rejects it in three paragraphs.

    I actually gave up on it the first time I tried it back in April, but put it down to a reading rut I’d got myself into where I would pick up a book, read a few pages, and set it aside. Three and a half months later and I’m only just pulling myself out of that rut.

    As for YA market, I don’t know much about that area, but I would think that the liberal spread of swearing would factor it out of that area, which is a shame, as the rebelious teenage girl angle would perhaps suit that younger demographic. Thatz what I sphinx anywayz.

  3. jem said:

    I’m interested in books that borrow from, continue or invert other books. But I worry if its not rather lazy literature. If the author does it well it can be enjoyable and fun, but this sounds like its trying a bit too hard and falling far short.

  4. Gem said:

    Stewart, I saw that review earlier and had a good laugh. I hadn’t thought of the swearing,it is a shame because it could have worked quite well for that market. Ah well.

    Jem,
    I find derivative fiction interesting too, at least when it is done well – Neil Gaiman’s short story A Study in Emerald pops immediately to mind as does Jasper Fforde’s series of books which are just frothy good fun. Your post has also reminded me that I have Kathy Acker’s Don Quixote here somewhere waiting to be read – it’s a feminist take on Miguel de Cervantes’ tale.

  5. Stewart said:

    Gem and Jem: what are the chances?

  6. Gem said:

    hehe.

  7. Pingback: CreateSomething

  8. Jane Air said:

    I think it’s definately worth a look. Great title.

  9. Stewart said:

    How so, Jane?

Leave a Reply

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