This book has some of the most long-winded and sesquipedalian (I wanted to use that word so badly) prose I’ve ever read, but I somehow managed to finish it in one afternoon, glued to my Kindle the entire time.
(By the way, anyone else love the irony of the word sesquipedalian? It has to be one of my favorite words for that reason)
About the Book
Title: The Picture of Dorian Gray
Author: Oscar Wilde
Genre: classics, Gothic/horror
Rating: 5/5 stars
(This book is in the public domain, so you bet I’m going to drop a million quotes in the review)
“Sin is a thing that writes itself across a man’s face. It cannot be concealed.”
The Picture of Dorian Gray opens with the introduction of an artist named Basil Howard and his fascination with a young man named… Dorian Gray, whom we are told is very, very (very, very, very) beautiful. (It’s implied that Basil has romantic feelings for Dorian, which is actually what made the book controversial when it was published in 1890.)
When Dorian comes to Basil’s studio to get his portrait painted, he meets Basil’s cynical and slightly evil friend, Lord Henry, who enjoys saying oh-so-clever and casually callous one-liners during every lull in conversation.
“Being natural is simply a pose, and the most irritating pose I know.” – Lord Henry, whom I loved despite the fact that he is the villain…
Lord Henry manages to freak Dorian out about getting old and losing all his beauty, tricking him into unwittingly selling his soul (?) for eternal beauty.
That’s right: Dorian will never grow old; instead, his portrait will bear all of the weight of his life choices. Dorian doesn’t realize this at first, but as he falls deeper into debauchery at the encouragement of Lord Henry, the portrait gradually grows more and more hideous, hidden in Dorian’s attic where no one will ever find it….
“There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”
I’d been looking forward to reading this book for while. I had seen it on so many lists of “accessible” classics and best-books-of-all-time, so one day I finally went and downloaded it from Project Gutenberg to give it a try myself.
First of all, though it was slightly more on the long-winded side, the writing was great. While there were one or two places where I was almost tempted to skim through the long descriptions of Dorian’s opulent lifestyle and whatever the walls looked like, I couldn’t bring myself to because the language was just so immersive and quite frankly addictive.
There were also a surprising number of funny one-liners (said by Lord Henry, of course). Speaking of Lord Henry, although he is the obvious antagonist, Wilde writes him in such a way that the audience can disturbingly see themselves in him and almost sympathize with him anyway, an aspect of the book that really stuck with me.
One thing that took me out of the story were certain really dramatic and unrealistic situations that were just too over-the-top for me to take seriously. (the whole thing with Dorian’s fanatical crush was… super melodramatic, but that is characteristic of Gothic literature. I think. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on artistic movements.)
Let’s talk some more about the plot, though. The symbolism of the titular “picture of Dorian Gray” was a fascinating basis for a story, and the book keeps up its momentum through an intense feeling of this-is-not-going-to-end-well. You’re compelled to keep reading, even though it’s obvious that the story isn’t going anywhere good.
The ending was fitting, albeit kind of sudden, but I’m not going to discuss it because this is, after all, a spoiler-free review.
I would recommend this book to anyone looking to read more classics and anyone in the mood for a contemplative and spooky-ish book.
I’m adding a new section to my reviews where I mention other books that remind me of the book I’m reviewing! For this one, I’m going to say it reminded me a lot of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, and the premise is sort of like The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab, which I haven’t read yet (so don’t hold me to that)