My head reels! I have, of course, just finished reading Will Self's "Dorian" and he's smarter than smart can be!
"Dorian - an Imitation" is so much more than simply the retelling of one of our most famous and terrifying modern fables.
Self has not only retold Oscar Wilde's 'Picture of Dorian Gray', and done this with great panache, dexterity and originality, but has taken it some way further as well. While many will (think) they know what to expect from the plot, there are plenty of new ports of call to keep the most jaded reader wide awake.
Self has transposed the characters of the original to the London of the 1980s and 1990s. And in so doing, Self gives glorious attention to detail: Dorian Gray's progress from callow youth to shallow monster, his 'mentor' Henry Wotton, the cynical yet perspicacious, bisexual drug-fiend aristo, his somewhat dippy but devoted wife 'Batface', the wrinkled old queen 'The Ferret' (like a human embodiment of the Dormouse from Alice in Wonderland) who keeps falling asleep and to whom they keep feeding drugs... and a convincing cast of many other lowlifes and highbrows.
Impressive, too, is the detail (psychological and social) of (a sector of) the homosexual world of the period, the disease and subculture of AIDS and (of course, Mr Self) drug taking. I write as a not totally unworldly gay man with HIV and feel that Self has achieved an, at times, uncomfortable and poignant accuracy.
At the novel's climax, as ever, Self has more cards up his sleeve than we realise. We're kept on the edge of our seats to the end - our brains reeling on the roller coaster of (!self-) revelation right to last full stop.
I found this book shocking, loathsome, chilling, gruesome and (consequently) totally compelling. Even at its most grotesque (or perhaps, perversely, because of it) it has credibility - the hallmarks of truth. Enough to make you feel exposed as though your own picture were on view because it is so very vivid.
Indeed the book has a very visual, filmic quality about its writing - almost as if it were the screenplay for a movie. Perhaps, (like the video art installation of Dorian Gray itself) the book partly reflects the way that art and entertainment now centres its focus and importance on the medium of the moving image.
Be that as it may, like all good fiction/art, it holds up a mirror to the truth about any of us, so how can we help but leer back at it and make comparisons? For it is "the spectator and not life that art really mirrors" as Oscar Wilde states in his preface to "The Picture of Dorian Gray".
Indeed, let's give Wilde the last word seeing as that's where this story began. "The artist is the creator of beautiful things" he says at the start. Self has certainly done that in this version - even if the subject matter might make that seem otherwise.
Buy it. Read it. And shiver!