(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The subtitle reads “An Imitation.” And certainly Will Self has succeeded in imitating Oscar Wilde’s characteristic prose: he has self-consciously larded the novel with epigrammatic witticisms a la Oscar (“I adore destructive spectacles; they are the last refuge of the creative”), and like his nineteenth century predecessor, he is similarly undaunted by the florid, piling one orchidaceous phrase upon another until the entire book feels like some kind of hot-house wonder: marvelous but slightly sinister. So he has got the style right. As for the tale, it is both funnier than the original and more appallingly grotesque.

Self has given new life to Wilde’s “decadent” text, taking the original characters and situations and translating them boldly into contemporary equivalents. Henry Wotton, responsible for Dorian’s profligate descent, is now a heroin-addicted openly gay man, a dissolute wreck before reaching thirty; Basil Hallward, now Baz, is not a painter but a video artist who has captured Dorian’s naked beauty in “Cathode Narcissus,” a video installation on nine monitors; finally, there is Dorian, who remains Wilde’s seductively beautiful youth and whose amoral pursuit of sensation leads him into brutality and murder without his face bearing the slightest trace of his transgressions—all of which now appear only in the video images. So the story is intact. It has just been given a big push into the explicitness that was...

(The entire section is 437 words.)