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Dorian [Hardcover]

Grove/Atlantic
2.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Jan. 15 2003 Ay Adult - Self
The New York Times Book Review has praised Will Self as a "high-powered satirical weapon" and an "alpha male in the British literary hierarchy." Now he confirms his place among our most important writers by offering a stunning reimagination of the most shocking novel of its time. Summer, 1981. It is an age when appearances matter more and more. Only the shallowest people won't judge by them. Henry Wotton, gay, drug-addicted, and husband of Batface, the irrefutably aristocratic daughter of the Duke of This or That, is at the center of a clique dedicated to dissolution. His friend Baz Hallward, an artist, has discovered a young man who is the very epitome of male beauty -- Dorian Gray. His installation, Cathode Narcissus, captures all of Dorian's allure and, perhaps, something else. After a night of debauchery that climaxes in a veritable conga line of buggery, Wotton and Hallward are caught in the hideous web of a retrovirus that becomes synonymous with the decade. Sixteen years later the Royal Broodmare, as Wotton has dubbed her, lies dying in a Parisian underpass. But what of Wotton and Hallward? How have they fared as stocks soar and T-cell counts plummet? And what of Dorian? How is it that he remains so youthful while all around him shrivel and die? Set against the AIDS epidemic of the eighties and nineties, Will Self's Dorian is a shameless reworking of our most significant myth of shamelessness, brilliantly evoking the decade in which it was fine to stare into the abyss, so long as you were wearing two pairs of Ray-Bans.

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From Publishers Weekly

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.

From Library Journal

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.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Wilde would not approve May 2 2004
By Sarah
Format:Paperback
Wilde was a silver-tongued philosopher if there ever was one: his incisive witticisms weren't disembodied pretticisms, but a glittering facade for dark, multilayered meaning. In other words, he was a man of brilliant ideas and impeccable style, in many senses of the word. Will Self seems to be a man of mildly intriguing ideas and loathsome taste.
The punchline of the book offers some insights on the purpose, function, and effect of art. Besides that, the book is a tedious, torturous read (besides being gory to the point of swift apathy and desensitization.)
Self's voice is not only grating, but Self-congratulatory and Self-indulgent: he amuses himself with pointless, witless alliteration as often as his characters smoke, snort and shoot all kinds of hideous drug combinations. His treatment of his own characters is sadistic and completely lacking in affection.
The book is built around several mildly interesting comparisons with Wilde's original; the last, revealed in the epilogue, being the strongest. And yes, it's sort of interesting to compare 'moral corruption' with the transmission of a virus for which there is no cure. But his ideas lose all appeal thanks to the voices of the narrator and his aggravating flock of junkies (I speak French and I found the constant turd-like dropping of 'bons mots' infuriating; I can't imagine what it would be like for someone who can't understand them at all....)
Read the original and let your own imagination fit it to the context of the '80s and '90s.
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1.0 out of 5 stars tedious game of intertextual hide and seek Feb. 12 2004
Format:Hardcover
110 years ago, the main character of Oscar Wilde's most scandalous as well as renowned novel initiated the destruction of his beautifully preserved, seemingly unspoilt yet profoundly corrupt self by stabbing his truth-revealing portrait.
We all know that any "good" embodiment of evil - as well as any good plot - is doomed to return sooner or later, which is why it should not come as a great surprise to see the return of Dorian Gray. As stunningly beautiful as ever, he is out haunting London and New York, inflicting his virus of death and corruption onto everyone he comes in contact with.
Will Self is honest enough to call his work an imitation, and it really is little more than that, which is both, the strength as well as the weakness of the book. Wilde's plot is, of course, ingenious, offering the reader a little bit of everything, including the tragic fall of its heroes, different moments of self-recognition, unrequited love, more or less outrageous erotic constellations, murder, a little touch of magic and so much more. It is therefore obvious, why Will Self has decided to stay true to the story-line and he does succeed in transposing these different elements and characters into the presence, giving them a new quality of authenticity and liveliness. At the same time, he keeps the reader entertained by involving him/her in a game of intertextual hide and seek, based on the activity of trying to identify by what name or in what shape certain characters or motifs of the original return in its new manifestation.
However, any game is destined to become tedious if the problems involved can be solved too easily and that is what happens when an imitation is too obviously linked to its model.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Conga Line Aug. 1 2003
Format:Hardcover
It was soon after I saw the movie "The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen" where Dorian Gray is one of the characters that I ran across Will Self's book and thought it'd be interesting to read his treatment of the character. The difficulty with the book is that no character is actually likeable, no one for whom to root. The updating of Oscar Wilde's mechanism of a painting that ages to a 3D video artpiece in which the young naked Dorian posed and whose video image ages is interesting enough. However, the novel is hardly complimentary to the gay community on which it focuses. The graphic scenes of sexual orgy actually get a bit boring as Self repeats his image of "conga line of bug***" so many times that it's more repetitive than interesting. Wotton's wife is called "Batface" for most of the book with no one remarking on the unkind cruelty of the denomination, but simple accepted as a matter of course. The novel also gets quite expansive with Gray going to Riverside County, California, which stretched the story without really adding to it. The reversal in the Epilogue with a story within a story seemed to be more of a mind game imposed on the tale by the author in an attempt to be clever than something which seemed to be necessary. Will Self does have some strengths. I found the book to be well paced, his prose has a uniqueness, and his vocabulary is very large. While the tale was interesting enough for a quick reading, it would surprise me if this stays in print long. Take it or leave it.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Something different, please July 2 2003
Format:Hardcover
Will Self's updated version of Oscar Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray" inevitably invites comparison with the original, and I'm afraid I thought that it came a poor second best.
"Dorian" failed for me on several counts. Self (who at his best is an imaginative writer) just could not match Wilde's wit: for example, Wilde's Henry Wotton is a much more witty character than Self's.
Wilde's novel had a certain Gothic horror underpinned by a subtle homosexual sub-plot (the latter necessarily so given the time it was written). Self, however, had no real need to allude to the homosexuality of his characters. Indeed, it's out there in the open, coupled with horror created by descriptions of AIDS and a sort of "American Psycho" sub-plot. No subtlety here then - quite the reverse. I felt that Self couldn't tear himself away from these themes. The trouble is that they weigh down the whole book, becoming tedious for the reader (or at least this one). That's not to belittle the fact that AIDS has had and continues to have a devasting effect, but I felt at times that Self was doing little more than indulging what I suspect might have been a fascination with descriptions of casual gay sex, cruising, SM bars and AIDS wards. When mixed together, they do not of themselves constitute an interesting novel.
This might be because Self's chosen plot pandered to his favourite themes. Within the first 50 pages of "Dorian", the reader is in familiar Self territory: drug abuse and hospitals. I couldn't help getting the immediate feeling of "here we go again". I suppose that continued descriptions of drug abuse in Self's writing have just worn me down. I just don't find it in the least bit interesting any more. I much prefer Self's writing when he holds these obessions in check, and lets his imagination explore different subjects/themes. "Dorian" was, I'm afraid, inferior both to Wilde and to Self's other work.
G Rodgers
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