Oscar Wilde’s classic endures with its gems of astute observation and cynical wit. The eerie story follows a young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty in the form of a supernatural portrait. Life's mysterious paradoxes are laced throughout Lord Henry's brilliant aphorisms. Gray is urged by Henry to "love the wonderful life that is in you." The novel's qualities are mired in decadence, "art for art's sake," the new hedonism of the Victorian-era upper class, and societal moral corruption. Simon Prebble perfectly achieves Lord Henry's "low, languid voice" and sparkling conversation, while avidly expressing the other characters' more torrid emotions. Prebble brings the fable's gothic horror to life, but the more youthful characters lack believable intonation.
First, I would like to commend Simon Prebble's performance. His reading intoned just the right amount of the intended character trait for each individual. The story is a classic study of progression from innocence to pathological madness with the macabre twist. I read mostly modern novels, and it is sometimes tedious to me, as a modern reader, to maintain a high level of interest as Oscar Wilde forces me to endure the painfully boring discourse among guests at an upper class 19th century dinner party. Like the worst Seinfeld episode ever, these scenes are literally about nothing whatsoever other than demonstrating the dreariness of en everlasting life among these boring snobs. But, that was the literary style, and without using 300 words where 10 would have sufficed, The Picture of Dorian Gray would have been merely a superb short story.
In this dark and tragic commentary, Oscar Wilde spares no liberties in discussing morality, religion, society, and the depths of the human condition. This is a book in which beauty seems to be considered as an end in itself — except that Dorian’s great love of beauty ought to have induced in him such a revulsion at the growing ugliness of his character.
Dorian Gray is beauty in human form. His friend Basil Hallward, a painter, sees Dorian's beauty and is driven to portray it on canvas. Per Dorian's wish, he will remain beautiful, and Basil's portrait will bear the ravages of his soul. Basil's homoerotic fascination with Dorian, and its expression in his portrait of Dorian, will unwittingly lead to tragedy.
Overall: This is a deep novel, and requires some thinking about the lessons and messages throughout the writing. It's "a book that has never finished saying what it has to say."
I enjoy Wilde's use of language. In some ways this is probably one of the most simple stories. I found myself asking questions about my own life and choices. I can imagine, in my youth, I would have made all kinds of poor bargains. It's a quick read. I've seen this book as assigned reading to the young. I wonder if they can really get it? I wonder too if they can follow all the literary references.
The story was fascinating and interesting. There were parts where it was easy to see the moral comparisons of the characters to society in general. I often wondered during the telling if one of the main characters was going to be revealed as the devil incarnate. I felt at once both sorry for Dorian Gray and loathed him. I think the end was a fitting one. The story did its job well. I have much to think on
Three-time published author
Simon Prebble is the perfect narrator. He does fine with the voices, but it is his wry smiling cheekiness even in the most grotesque moment that embodies the spirit of Wilde.
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