Book Review: Dorian

7 Mar

Book cover: picture of Dorian Grey - a painting of a male, nude torsoDorian by Will Self

I Liked this Better Than the Original

A literary re-write is a difficult thing to do well, but Will Self does it. I think Self works better within the restraints of this form, (versus his bloated books The Butt or The Book of Dave) and the new twists Self adds to the tale work wonders.

There is no one picture – there is a modern art installation of multiple videos of Dorian – and he has to track down and hide each and every one – adding to the drama which was missing in the original. The debauched, druggy Lords and Ladies work brilliantly in a mid-80s setting, as does the masterstroke of using the HIV epidemic to hasten the aging process for all other characters. This also adds to the suspicion around Dorian’s miraculous escape from such a fate.

In retrospect – I realise a little more about what was implied in the original The Picture of Dorian Gray – why Dorian’s implied sleeping about was just so dangerous and evil (syphilis epidemic, anyone?) but, through no fault of Wilde’s, he couldn’t state those things emphatically, and I think the original is weaker for not being able to really get down and nitty gritty with those themes.

This modern retelling is slightly lighter on the quotable quips, but I think the novel is stronger for it. Quips are great fun, but with Wilde’s original they can completely dominate scenes, whereas in this they merely give an impression of the characters. Henry is funny, acidic and mean, yes – but he doesn’t set the tone for every single scene. He remains a character who narrator Self pulls the strings on – not vice versa.

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