Sunday, March 27, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: "The Picture of Dorian Gray"

The Picture of Dorian Gray
By Oscar Wilde
Copyright 2003
Barnes & Noble Classics Publishers Classical Fiction

I had seen this book listed on those "100 Books Every Person Should Read" lists, but had never really known much about it. When I read the synopsis, I thought it sounded interesting so I decided to add it to my own "Books I Have Read" list.

The Picture of Dorian Gray begins with an artist painting a portrait of a wonderfully handsome young man. So wonderfully handsome, in fact, that the artist seems to have become completely and utterly enamored with him, putting his whole soul into the painting. Shortly thereafter, when the painting is complete and Dorian himself sees how stunning the portrait is, he makes a wish that he could always be as young, inspiring and handsome as he is in the portrait and that the portrait instead should be the one who ages. A wish that, surprisingly, takes place.

As Dorian's activities shift into something sinister and forbidden, the selfishness that dominates his life begins to show on the face in the portrait while his own face remains as serene and beautiful as it always was. One of my favorite lines from the entire book was, "There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about," a comment on the degree of narcissism into which Dorian would soon slip.

A few random comments about the story:
1. It was interesting to me that Dorian's friends and acquaintances who were aging around him only commented in passing about his unchanged appearance.
2. Dorian seemed quite fascinated with the phenomenon that was occurring, observed it almost like someone would watch a science project, and yet continually maintained a level of indifference at his own actions.
3. I was sorry that the love story ended the way that it did.
4. Many in literary circles over the years have commented about the sexual undertones in this book (mostly due, I think, to Wilde's own scandalous life at the time). However, I didn't feel like it was unnecessarily sordid. Nor did I feel like it took away from the power of the story.

A few random comments about the writing:
1. I rather enjoyed the descriptive nature of each passage within the book. Wilde uses lovely phrases to express his thoughts (and the thoughts of his characters).
2. I also rather enjoyed the witty Victorian-style banter perfectly placed within the story.
3. Wonderfully sickening suspense at the end of the story, just waiting for Dorian to make the realization of what he had done.

This story is definitely not for everyone. There is a noticeable level of debauchery throughout most of the book, certain events with a definite "ick" factor, and just the mere incomprehensibility of the nonchalance shown by the main character for the choices he makes. But I did enjoy reading the story and am glad to check it off my list.

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