Top positive review
Succeeds on many levels
on 10 October 2012
I knew the central theme of this book so well that I had almost persuaded myself I had read it, but I am glad to have convinced myself otherwise as I would have missed out on a pearl. It works on several levels: first as a superior horror story, with Dorian Gray effectively selling his soul for eternal youth, with all the marks not only age but of debauchery, sin and eventually murder appearing on the portrait which he has locked away in his attic; secondly a morality tale of vice, remorse and retribution; thirdly as a philosophical discourse on hedonism and its consequencs as practised by a section of the upper classes in late Victorian society; finally as a comment on contemporary attitudes to homosexuality, still illegal at this time and for the best part of a century afterwards (the author Oscar Wilde was of course notoriously imprisoned for transgression).
The language is deliberately mannered and at times almost overblown, teeming with typical Wildean epigrams and paradoxes which are usually articulated by Gray's mentor, the cynical Lord Henry Wotton, who leads Gray into self-destructive pleasure-seeking. In the background of the narrative nature imagery abounds, setting into relief the stiflingly artificial lives and discourses of high society.
The novel might best be described as a blend of gripping story and moral essay or discussion involving the active participants (like Plato's'Republic'). It is the story, however, and the final image of bloody atonement, that remains longest in the memory and for which the book is justly famous.
Reviewer David Williams blogs regularly as Writer in the North.