Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Picture of Dorian Gray [1891]

[DISCLAIMER: This review is going to have a bit of philosophical rambling, and while I have a basic grasp on the philosophies brought up, I am by no means a expert. If you happen to be one of those smart people who know a lot about philosophy, feel free to correct me, as long as you're polite about it.]
I've got a confession to make, though you've probably already noticed. I like creepy things. I like weird things. Stories like Coraline, Odd Thomas, or Pan's Labyrinth are kind of my thing. Make of that what you will. This attraction to the macabre is what led me to read this book, and let me say that it didn't let me down in that area. But it's going to take more than some creepy goings on to make a book a favorite of mine. My major issue with this book was, I suppose, the philosophy and characters.
I'm not sure that Oscar Wilde was trying to promote this philosophy or show what was wrong with it (as authors frequently did with their writing, back then). The most prominent philosophy in this book is Individualism, which I don't know that much about aside from what I've hastily researched and read in this book, and it kind of got on my nerves after a while. Individualism focuses on the importance of the individual, and while the individual is important, this philosophy bends a little too much towards Hedonism, for me.
This book seems to show the consequences of living by such a philosophy, and if that's the case, great. I have no problem with different points of view being discussed, except that no other alternative to Individualism is presented. I feel like if you're going to make a successful critique of a certain lifestyle, you should provide examples of different ones. Just my two cents, you don't have to agree with 'em.
Anyway... the story! Which is probably more important anyway. This book is well written (Nice, descriptive language) and fast paced; I was able to read through it in just a day and a half. It did hold my attention, which is always nice. Of all the characters, only one was really likeable. And he dies. And horrible things happen to him, even after he's dead. ._.
I'm not sure how I feel about books with next to no likeable characters. It's hard to be moved by or care about what happens in a story when the characters don't even resonate with you. Stories filled with horrid people can be interesting because of the satire that is usually in them, but they aren't usually every enjoyable books. You know, they're the books you read because they're interesting and important *cough*1984*cough*, but you don't really enjoy them. And because I myself am kind of hedonistic at heart, (Je suis une hypocrite) I like to actually enjoy the books I read.

EDIT: I was reading Peter Kreeft's The Philosophy of Tolkien, and I found a good reason why for a story to be great it has to have likeable characters you can identify with.

"[...] A great story must also have great characters or at least one great character (greatly drawn, at least) for readers to identify with, to find their identity in. We become the characters- in spirit and imagination. No story is great unless it sucks us in, takes us up out of our bodies, and gives us an out-of-body-experience, an ek-statis, standing outside yourself in another. Great stories give us the grace of a mystical experience, on the level of the imagination."

A story like this, or like 1984 may have some points that are worth making, but in the end, the stories we remember and love are the ones that suck us in. So there. ;)

The Verdict: C-
This book is certainly interesting, and who knows, someday when I'm older and less stubborn maybe I'll read it again and come out with a more favorable opinion. But until then... yeah. I'll shut up now and stick my nose back into The Two Towers. :)

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