Dorian Paperback – 4 Jun 2009
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"Fresh and entertaining...Self's tale offers compassion and hope, ultimately giving Dorian a visceral and emotional conclusion....The tamed excess of Self's irreverent and unrelenting voice make Dorian an exceptional read and a thought-provoking examination of the most basic of human vices."
From the Back Cover
'Chilling, hysterical, tasteless and haunting. A Gothic thriller complementing and enriching its original' Independent on Sunday
'Shot through with dark humour and pathos' Big Issue
In the summer of 1981, aristocratic, drug-addicted Henry Wooten and Warhol-acolyte Baz Hallward meet Dorian Gray. Dorian is a golden adonis - perfect, pure and (so far) deliciously uncorrupted. The subject of Baz's video installation, Cathode Narcissus, and the object of Henry's attentions, Dorian is launched on a hedonistic binge that spans the '80s and '90s. But as Baz and Henry succumb to the disease du jour, how is it that Dorian, despite all his sexual and narcotic debauchery, remains so unsullied - so vibrantly alive?
'Self's reincarnation of Dorian has taken the fag ends of both an English century and an English myth and given them new, troubling and hugely entertaining life' Neil Bartlett, Guardian
'A book that filled its first reviewers with "the odour of moral and spiritual putrefaction" just got smellier, darker and funnier' Observer
'Savage and hilarious [with a] delicious sense of dread. Wilde would have been flattered by Self's brilliant "imitation" of his tainted love story' Time OutSee all Product description
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"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!
The 1980s gay scene is captured well, with its pre-AIDS sense of liberation - orgies, `damp bath houses and fetid gyms, cottages'
Then comes this new disease thought to be caused by using poppers. Later comes the Labour landslide and Diana.
Diana and Dorian became the celeb. icons of their day.
Many of us know decadents like Wooten, who mentors Grey, who would rather his servants stole from him than pay them. He doesn't always wear an AIDS lapel as it doesn't always go with what he is wearing. He is a snob who asks: 'Minneapolis? Do they have art there?' He quips: `Monogamy is to love as ideology is to thought; both are failures in imagination.' He ends up bribing the medical staff to bring him drugs when he is in hospital with AIDS
Henry Wotton's neighbour, the "jiggling man" metes out the seconds of physical time for Wotton's existence.
Dorian is described as `completely vapid as well as murderous. A ludicrous, narcissistic pretty boy, with nothing on his mind but sex and sadism [...], selfish
What is real? Is there a conspiracy feeding us with images of that which is really unreal?: his theory on the Gulf War to Hester Wharton, another of the guests at the Wottons': "Of course", he drawled," the Gulf war never really happened..." "What the hell d'you mean? "[...]"I mean that the Gulf War didn't happen". Dorian held up his hand s and began telling off the fictions on his manicured fingers. "There was no invasion of Kuwait, No tense standoff, no coalition- building, no Scuds falling on Tel Aviv, no bombs smartly singling out Ba'athist apparatchiks in Baghdad, no refugees on the Jordanian border, no Republican guards buried on the Basra road, no Schwarzkopf, no dummkops, no tortured RAF pilots, no victory, none of it. No Gulf War. Can I make myself clearer?" He goes on to ask if anyone knows someone who's actually been killed or lost a lived one.
Amusing phrases include: More gays in audience than on stage at opera. Philanthropy as an `act' is a cynical view. Smart enough to read theology yet perceptive enough to read tea leaves. Modern furniture looked as comfortable as a colonoscopy. Fixing coke - all human striving is here - measured out in millilitres. `You're all delicate flowers, aren't you, boys. The whole death thing shakes you up so, and that nasty moral majority saying it was all your own minority fault.' `You homosexuals are only the vanguard of a mutton army dressed as lambs.' Taking off condom and pouring it in. `as if Cologne Cathedral was being shoved up my fundament' (Jung in reverse) `Conceptual art has degenerated to the level of crude autobiography, a global-village sale of shoddy, personal memorabilia for which video installations are the TV. `why am I always up at the dawn of crack?' I wonder if the Royal Academy gift shop is doing special offers on ....vacuum-packed blood.'
The inclusion of Jeremy magazine is a blast from the past.
There's a surprising ending
That there is a naked man on the cover meant that one of our members felt unable to read it on the bus.
Given the closeness with which Self’s 'imitation’ matches with Wilde’s original, Dorian also has the effect of immediately prompting me to revisit (for compare and contrast purposes) the 1891 novel, but, in the meantime, even though Self’s version unsurprisingly lacks much of the reserve and subtlety of the original, it nevertheless makes for a compelling read and contains enough narrative twists (including a remarkable, near-revelatory final 20 pages) for it to come highly recommended.
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