Boy oh boy oh boy. This book. It’s incredible to me that a book that so many of my peers, the book opinions of whom I generally value greatly, find enjoyable could be so painfully bad. I had a bit of a rant on it on Goodreads so I’m just going to copy-paste my review below, but. Wow. What a crappy novel.
What could have been a fascinating exposé on human vanity is undermined by Wilde’s overbearing self-indulgence. I can only imagine that the first draft must have been created by Wilde masturbating over blank sheets of paper, and drawing out each letter with his own semen.
The hypocrisy and self-contradiction of the novel are astounding, especially in relation to the baseless manifesto of its preface. Also striking is the blatant and relentless misogyny, primarily spouted by the insufferable Lord Henry – but Wilde gives us little reason to think women are anything but a one-dimensional hive mind who exist for men with the blandness of his women characters.
The novel is also strangely puritanical in its morality; Dorian’s venture into hedonism is portrayed (tediously, in a whole chapter engorged on pointless purple prose) as a sort of incurable moral fault, when he really just seemed to be enjoying pretty things and having sex with respectable women. It is also much less homoerotic than history seems to remember it, which is possibly a testament of the prudishness of its Victorian audience.
Dorian himself evoked mostly apathy with his unsympathetic stupidity and transmogrification into a bad clone of Lord Henry. Furthermore, the whole Vane affair was shoehorned pointlessly in with a disappointing deus ex machina end, and provided an unconvincing basis for Dorian’s short-lived attempt to repent.
The beginning and the end of the novel are, however, still fairly memorable. The prose had its moments of enjoyable flow. For these reasons I have awarded this book an extra star; otherwise, it remains one of the most irritating and overrated novels I have had the misfortune to read.