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Dorian: An Imitation Hardcover – January, 2003

3.2 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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.

Product Details

  • Series: Ay Adult - Self
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; 1St Edition edition (January 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802117295
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802117298
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,196,600 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Judging by its title, I at first thought that Will Self had in mind the ambitious goal of writing a viable version of "The Picture of Dorian Gray" set in the age of AIDS and drugs, while at the same time daring the reader to compare his novel to the original. To set himself up for this inevitable comparison with a master like Wilde, he pulls the reader in from the very beginning with his spectacular stylistic prowess. Though quite faithful to the original, he soon transcends it and uses the Dorian Gray story as an instrument in an exploration of the uneven flow of time, and of the interplay between physical time, historical time and biological time.
Youth, venerated almost religiously in our days, is of course defined in terms of biological time, and when the flow of biological time comes to a standstill in Dorian, some form of time keeps flowing on in the artistic rendering of Dorian, the painting in Wilde, the video installation in Self. This artistic rendering is the one that provides a picture of our age for future generations, and thus the time that flows in it is historical time.
By contrast the lifestyle of the Wottons and their friends gives the appearance of historical time at a standstill, while biological time is flowing inexorably, driving many of these people to early deaths by disease (mainly AIDS) originating in this very lifestyle.
Maybe Mr. Self's most original creation is Henry Wotton's neighbor, the "jiggling man" who metes out the seconds of physical time for Wotton's existence.
Whether reading Wilde or Self, the picture/installation is an extremely clever, but also an extremely contrived device.
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Format: Paperback
This is an excellent updating of Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray, moving the action up to the 1980s-1990s of London, New York, and LA. The prose style is rich and erudite. The pages are larded with faux Wilde epigrams that sparkle and shimmer.

What keeps it interesting, even when you think you know where it's going, is that there are two very interesting twists at the end. I would like to think that Wilde would approve. Lots of famous names are dropped: Warhol, Princess Di, Barbara Bush, Versace, etc., so our more modern times of pop culture are vividly portrayed.

The novel is often graphic in its detail of the free-living Manhattan sex clubs right before (and then full into) the AIDS era. The scenes involving drug usage are not for the squeamish. The vocabulary alternates between the philosophy classroom and the filthy gutter.

Some of the characterizations are marvelous, especially a rich old guy called The Ferret. I was amazed at how the author stayed so close to the original, yet made everything seem his own.
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Format: Paperback
This is a clever retelling and updating into a world of drugs and AIDS, of Wilde's story.

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
and egotistical."

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.
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Format: Paperback
It was years ago that I read the Wilde classic, so I wasn't as I read Will Self's update consciously or otherwise thinking about the differences between the two and judging how it measures or fails to measure up to its more famous predecessor. Perhaps that's one of the reasons why I enjoyed it while many others disliked it. As a standalone novel about narcissism - surely a contemporary social ill, if not the scourge of our age - I thought "Dorian" stood its own ground very well.

Self doesn't pull his punches in his depiction of the dissolute lifestyle of the upper classes. He seethes with barely concealed contempt for their amorality and their never-ending drug and sex orgies. There's not one sympathetic character among the lot. They're careless and callous of life - they dismiss somebody else's death by murder with the wave of a limp wrist - so when they catch AIDS and find the dagger pointing at their own throats, should anybody baulk ? Dorian is only the distillate and the end result of a values system that encourages if not promotes self worship.

Self's excessive wordplay - headache inducing as always - is only quintessentially Self. I'm sure he's added liberally to the English language. His graphic, no holds barred take on decadence is often unpleasant and shocking. His narrative technique is sometimes confusing as he takes us backwards and forwards in time, juxtaposing past events alongside current occurrences through the use of bedside confessions. We confront our horror just as the tale reaches its nadir when Dorian confuses himself with his airbrushed video images. The rest, as they say, is history.

"Dorian" isn't for everyone. It's nasty, graphic and violent but also eerily contemporary and necessary.
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