In this retelling of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, most of the original's characters are cleverly transmuted into their late-20th-century counterparts: dissolute Henry Wotton, now openly homosexual with a nasty heroin habit; his protege, eager young video artist "Baz" Hallward; and the title character, the quintessential amoral narcissist and a "seducer par excellence" (of men and, occasionally, women). In the summer of 1981, Hallward captures Gray's youth and beauty in a video installation that he titles "Cathode Narcissus." He and Wotton take Gray under their wing and school him in the ways of profligate London living, early '80s-style. By 1997, all three are HIV-positive, though Dorian, of course, shows no sign of illness. Self uses Wilde's plot to examine post-Stonewall gay life, from its drug-fueled hedonistic excesses to the reckoning of the AIDS epidemic. The novel skewers every layer of British society-street hustlers, members of Parliament and the idle rich. Real-life figures also appear, most notably the "princess of bulimia," Diana Spencer. The prose is laced with epigrammatic, lightly amusing pseudo-Wildean wit ("I want my sins to be like sushi-fresh, small and entirely raw," says Wotton), but its wordplay and evocation of debauchery also owe something to Evelyn Waugh and Martin Amis (channeling Hunter Thompson and Irvine Welsh). Self's mannered prose can grow tedious, and there's hardly a sympathetic character to be found, but the writer has undertaken-and largely succeeded in pulling off-a daring act of literary homage.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
To reimagine a classic work-especially when its author is the flamboyant and witty Oscar Wilde-is a daunting task, but Self (How the Dead Live) rises to the challenge. Upon its publication in 1891, The Picture of Dorian Gray shocked Victorian sensibilities. That Self's work will have a similar impact seems doubtful; as a society familiar with the works of Bret Easton Ellis, Thomas Harris, and Clive Barker, we have come too far, or, some may think, sunk too low. This is not to say, however, that Self has not done a masterly job of resetting the story in the era of AIDS, where Dorian's self-indulgent behavior proves to have a particularly devastating effect. The aristocratic Henry Wotton remains Dorian's decadent mentor and master of the bon mot. Baz Hallward remains hopelessly enamored of the Adonis-like young man, whom he talks into becoming the centerpiece for a video installation but for whom he remains an object of contempt. Alan Campbell and Lady Narborough are among the others reprised. Modern additions include Princess Di and the drug-dealing Ginger. Dorian's is a tale that allows Self to indulge his own penchant for word play, black humor, and uncomfortable imagery while continuing to explore the themes of sexual identity and social decadence. It is graphic and violent and definitely not everyone's cup of tea, but as an adaptive exercise it hits the mark. A story well suited to our times, this is recommended for larger public and most academic libraries.
David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, FL
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Other reviewers' complaints about this novel typically focus on what is graphically unpleasant about Self's depictions of his characters. Well, wake up. Read morePublished on March 7 2004
This novel is at best confusing but still intriguing. Most of the time you aren't quite sure what is happening, since the book has a tendency to jump around a bit. Read morePublished on Feb. 27 2004 by DJ_Bitter
Will Self's update of Oscar Wilde's "Dorian Gray" seems to be hardly worth the effort as he seems to try and offend everyone by bringing it into the age of AIDS. Read morePublished on May 6 2003 by Joseph J. Hanssen
I was surprised to find that this book was published in 2001. Much of it seems so dated: the glorification of the NY meat packing district, where sexual activity enters the realm... Read morePublished on April 9 2003 by MartinP