I was quite excited when I started this book. I’ve always enjoyed Oscar Wilde’s plays and Stephen Fry seemed the perfect narrator for his work.
I’d expected a few hours of entertainment and stimulation but I was very disappointed with what I heard.
Stephen Fry’s performance is first-rate. Without him bringing the text to life, I doubt I would have made it through this short novel.
The text was very disappointing. I realise that the impact of the story is dulled because the central conceit of Dorian Gray’s picture is as surprising as finding out that the Count living in Castle Dracula is a vampire but even so, I was had expected to enjoy how the story was told, rather than flipping from boredom with what I mentally labelled “A Single Shade Of Gray” to annoyance at just about every attribute and utterance of the main characters.
According to the publisher’s summary, Oscar Wilde noted in a letter that:
“Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry what the world thinks me: Dorian what I would like to be—in other ages, perhaps.”
Basil Hallward is the artist who paints the picture of Dorian Gray. Lord Henry is Dorian’s corruptor. Basil Hallward was a dull but worthy man who seemed to be in denial about the nature of his attraction to Dorian Gray. He’s described by Lord Henry (an alleged friend) as a man who produces bad art with good intentions.
Dorian Gray starts as an entitled, over-privileged air-head, mainly notable for his cluelessness and his pretty face. He ends up as an even more over-privileged hedonist, mainly notable for his endless capacity to blame other people for the consequences of his own decadent choices.
Lord Henry suffers from verbal incontinence. The man ceaselessly spews out tiresome epigrams, the meretricious sparkle of which he uses both to prop up his ego and to sustain his endless self-deceit about his engagement with the world.
As is probably clear by now, I found myself entirely unsympathetic to this book and the people in it. I was irritated by the self-dramatising privileged young men the story centre around, worn down by the constant flow of over-worked wit and unpleasantly surprised by how ponderously the action moved forward.
My main reaction to reaching the end of the novel was relief that I’d no longer have to spend any time in the company of these narcissistic parasitic men.