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Customer Review

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Grasping at someone else's coattails..., 3 Dec. 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Dorian: An Imitation (Hardcover)
You might think it's a good idea to (re)read Wilde's original before diving into Self's reworking but, it's not. In comparison to the former, the latter is very pale indeed. Where the Wilde has warmth and wit, genuine suspense and no end of humanity, Will Self's book is full of nothing but one-dimensional misanthropes who fail to engage. Perhaps the most difficult thing to overcome in this novel that purports to be a reflection of our times is that despite references to and cataloging of contemporary culture, no one in this novel seems to have heard of or read Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. It's this kind of oversight that here makes Self seem like an overspent hack, somehow clueless to the size of the task he's set himself. There's genius in the idea--particularly in updating the picture to a video installation--but the execution is just plain mediocre; for the first time, the writing seems tentative. There's no evidence of the verbal torrent that was How The Dead Live, none of the passion. It's almost like someone wagered him that he couldn't do it and he foolishly took up the bet. The five or so lines that refer to Diana are a good case in point--much could be made of her early yet inevitable demise and the fact that she lives on, as young and beautiful as ever, in the endless video clips that play across British tv screens to this day. But no such association is made; instead we get the obvious Sloane Ranger and tampon jokes. What she has to do with this story--other than to serve as a punching bag--remains a mystery. So what's the point of updating or reworking or imitating an absolutely timeless classic? Well, it works in other mediums (Liz Phair's Exile In Guyville working in track by track resistance to the Stones' Exile on Main Street, for one; Paula Vogel's highly personal How I Learned To Drive in response to Lolita is another) but it usually falls flat in books and it certainly does here. Why use all the same characters and names, etc? Self too easily falls into a paint-by-numbers template as if he's working with Wilde's original by his side. He finds some freedom in the epilogue but by then the whole thing just caves in on itself. It also reads as if Self learned everything he knows about homosexuals from reading the Daily Mail. Strictly a curiousity--certainly not essential.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 13 May 2011 23:09:24 BDT
Last edited by the author on 18 May 2011 18:29:47 BDT
I haven't read the book but I've just seen Mr. Self peddling it at a conference at the V & A.

He blatantly said that The Picture of Dorian Gray was a badly written book, and the characters of Cybil Vane and Basil had no spine and were just headpieces. (It was not entirely tongue in cheek - as the man is beyond pretentious and "self"-obsessed).

Your review accurately describes the idea I held of the kind of book:" Dorian - An Imitation" might be.

There was a so- called "Wilde erudite" (according to the mistress of ceremony) aiding Mr. Self in this act of blatant self-promotion through putting down the original masterpiece. He and Mr. Self couldn't recall the name of the Marquess of Queensberry. People in the audience had to clue them in. I paid 9 pounds for that!

It would be great if Oscar Wilde was remembered, first and foremost, as a writer and not as an untouchable gay icon/martyr.

Most of the lecture concentrated on homosexuality and the validity of Oscar Wilde as a gay icon, when the lecture was portrayed as a companion event to the Cult of Beauty exhibition.

One would assume a parallel with the Aesthetic movement would have been made, but Mr. Self brushed off that movement as not being significant. (Possibly because he knew nothing about it.) "Shock for shock's sake." Marketing 101": Appear to criticise the work of those who have come before you as irrelevant, in order to claim the modernity of yours."

The debate about Oscar Wilde's validity as a gay icon, the boring details about the writer's research conducted in the gay world (the writer is straight), detracted from the subject at hand: "How do you write a novel based on the Picture of Dorian Gray? How is your work and that of the original book influenced by the Aesthetic movement?"

Surely, the general public is well informed of the happenings within the gay world, through the amount of movies and books devoted to the subject. Is there anyone who doesn't know what happens in bathhouses? Or is ignorant of the degree of promiscuity that is part of a lot of gay men's lives? At this point, I would find more shocking to know he visited a gay teahouse where all members would have made a vow of chastity.

Mr. Self made the assumption:" The Picture of Dorian Gray" was a "coming out" book. Like a lot of people, he assumed that the artist's or writer's sexual orientation necessarily meant the book was a tool to express/defend such identity.

I was under the impression the lecture was about how Mr. Self got to write his book, and was hoping to gain knowledge and interesting hindsight about the Picture of Dorian Gray.

Mr. Self also accused Oscar Wilde of setting up the gay liberation backwards. He claimed the trial had opened the door to persecution of gay men, who had, till then, been living their sexual lives quietly and in relative safety. It's been assumed that the general population was suddenly made aware, through the trial, that there were "somdomites" among them.

Mr. Wilde merely underlined that there were male of all strata of the population, engaging in gay sex. People seem to forget that Mr. Wilde was part of the upper classes. Certainly, he would not have committed social and career suicide to become the spokesperson for the gay men of his time.

The trial was an excuse to bring him down, from a society who hated his arrogance and envied his talent. It ended up serving as the trial of homosexual practices and the condemnation of homosexuality( men homosexuality). However, it is my belief that it started as a personal vendetta against Mr. Wilde.

He was living a life full of choices, on his own terms, able to indulge all his appetites, while his contemporaries, still had to curtail their desires or indulge in them secretly.

Mr. Self argued that the gay liberation would have happened more organically and progressed faster without the shock value of a trial. One can always rewrite history.

I would also like to mention that there are also lesbians in the gay community: gay liberation is not only about the boys.
Interestingly, Oscar Wilde's niece was a lesbian. I suggest you read her biography, she is a very interesting character and creative personality.

I'm not sure Mr. Wilde would have chosen to become a gay icon. For one thing, it hurt his career as a writer. I'm not sure it would have been something he would have relinquished willingly for the sake of freedom of sexual expression. He was, first and foremost, a writer.

The element that seems to have been forgotten is that he was deeply in love with Lord Alfred Douglas. It's reasonable to assume he went through with the trial out of love for him.

In:"De Profundis", Oscar Wilde confessed he sued for libel to aid in the redemption of Lord Alfred Douglas, nowhere is it mentioned he wanted to out himself and become a gay hero.
Much was made of his dealing with rent boys, but in:"De Profundis", he mentioned he mostly indulged in rent boys to please Mr. Alfred Douglas.

Mr.Self said Wilde was arrogant in thinking his wit would save him from condemnation. Yet, when it was clear he was going to be condemned, he made the choice to stay and face the consequences of the verdict: an act of courage and humility.

Surely, Mr. Wilde would cringe at people ripping up his work and, on top of that, calling it badly written. He would probably find the term:"arrogant" very applicable to that sort of behaviour.

I haven't read any books about Mr. Self but that particular event didn't make me want to spend one cent in the advancement of such a pretentious person. He is all fluff, and perfect for this century of mindless amusement.

Read "The Portrait of Dorian Gray", and research the life and works of Mr.Wilde. At least, he had respect for the writers who had come before him.He was a scholar and a Classicist, not the shallow Pop Culture darling draped in epigrams and fruity Aesthetic poses that people like Mr.Self want him to be, for the purpose of making themselves look more talented and interesting than their Facebook, sound-byte-friendly personalities.

Apologies for the original poster for veering off subject.

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Dec 2012 07:43:25 GMT
M. McDaid says:
Will Self seems to have made his sneering parasitical persona into a 'Facebook' pop-cultured version of Wilde's one time theatrical shtick, and willful self indulgence worthy of an contemporary 'OSCAR!'.
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