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. Will Self deals with this problem by attaching a both shocking and very ingenious epilogue in which everything that has gone before is revealed to have been fiction written by Henry Wotton. This fiction in turn has an immense impact on Dorian Gray's "real" life and in the last ten pages or so the interplay between fiction and reality --- or more precisely between a fiction within a fiction and a reality within a fiction --- becomes the main focus. This is a very interesting and major issue in its own right, and this epilogue does not do it justice, nor could it. With all his ingenuity Will Self has overloaded the book. The same can be said also about his clever but excessive use of Wilde type epigrams. As an example, he has Wotton commenting on Baz' death with the following paraphrase of Lady Bracknell ("The The Importance of Being Earnest") "For Baz to have died once would have been unfortunate; for him to die twice looks like carelessness." I found this funny but also over the top.
These problems aside, "Dorian" is a thought-provoking and extremely well-written novel well deserving the reader's attention.
- Hardcover: 288 pages
- Publisher: Viking (26 September 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0670889962
- ISBN-13: 978-0670889969
- Product Dimensions: 16 x 2.8 x 24.1 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 581 g
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