The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde [Book Review]
** spoiler alert ** I started reading “The picture of Dorian Gray” after receiving several recommendations from my friends. The synopsis seemed interesting, it was categorized as one of the greatest classics ever, I was sure I would enjoy it. But boy, was I wrong.
To begin with one of my main issues was Dorian himself – at least his earlier development. He didn’t seem like a believable character to me. Or rather, his changes felt somewhat illogical. He started off as extremely naive (or stupid), not knowing anything about the world at all (hard to digest, since he was already 20 at that time), then suddenly Lord Henry talks some obnoxious notions in his presence, and baaam! Dorian has a divine revelation! He realizes he’s alive, and beautiful, and that someday he’ll lose this in a natural process! So what does he think? Let him and his portrait exchange places; he’ll keep his youth for eternity, and the portrait will grow old, and ugly, and bear his decay. So far, nothing particularly negative.
But then that would be if the book continued in this way – which it didn’t. Since this is called ‘The portrait of Dorian Gray’, a title with no particular hidden meanings, you’d at least expect it to be about the portrait. But no; this book should have been called ‘How Dorian Gray is fascinated about tapestries, diamonds, cloths and his own beauty and how Oscar Wilde expresses his own pessimistic views through the voice of Lord Henry’. Because this is what the book is about; a long list of names and events concerning arts piled together in an unordered way, as if to show us how superior the characters/the author is compared to us because they have those notions; and a long list or reasons why life is bad in itself because it is seen from a pseudo-intellectual point of view. My gosh, when Lord Henry started talking, he sure talked; whether he was cynical, or indifferent, or ‘wicked’ (as the other characters described him), he basically transmitted nothing. Nothing at all. His thought line was not particularly difficult to follow; it was simply boring. Boring to tears. Yet he had such a major bad influence upon Dorian, that you cannot help but dislike him.
And then there were the descriptions. Everything was tasty, flowery, crafty; beauty was elevated to the point of being ugly itself – in all honestly, we, as readers, are not stupid; we already understood that Dorian was handsome, it needn’t be mentioned every 2 pages or so. As mentioned earlier, there were about 40 pages about Dorian’s obsessions with jewelry, tapestry, how he should dress and so on. Not only were these irrelevant, but also darn endless and annoying.
Towards the end of the book, the author seemed to have remembered that there was a plot to follow, a plot that had been present only in the first third of the book. So he resumed it; the portrait, which is only seldom mentioned, suddenly starts haunting Dorian yet again, since it reflects his crimes and decay. In a perfectly predictable manner, Dorian murders the creator of his tainted nature (role which he – ironically – gives to Basil the painter, not Lord Harry the bad influence) and is sought to be killed by the brother of the girl which he had determined to commit suicide out of love for him in the past. Of course he escapes the said brother (who dies by accident); and of course, it only occurs to him now, after nearly 20 years, that he should destroy the portrait. What happens next? Naturally he dies as well in this process and exchanges looks with the portrait – like it was incredibly hard to imagine. The end.
There was only one scene in ‘The portrait of Dorian Gray’ that I honestly enjoyed. That was when Dorian thinks he has done a good deed and looks at the portrait only to find it smirking hypocritically at him. It was the only moment of punishment, the only glorious triumph against Dorian himself – and my, he sure deserved tons of those.
To sum up, I didn’t like this book for the following reasons: it was all long, boring talk and descriptions (and I’m much more of an action-orientated reader), it was terribly predictable and it simply threw into your face various notions from all over (the author’s own concepts regarding life, art and so on). I’m not saying it is bad (far from that), it simply wasn’t my type of enjoyable reading – and I definitely wouldn’t recommend it to readers seeking events and relevant dialogues in their books.
Review written back in 2010 on Goodreads.