One of the joys of belonging to a book group – besides talking books with friends – is discovering literary gems that might have passed you by otherwise.
My book group has been going for almost six years.
Time enough to have read some stunning books – although we don’t always agree about what makes a good read.
But that’s the fun of being in a book club, isn’t it?
Some of my favourites have included Jonathan Harvey’s complex, multi-voiced story of three Scouse friends The History of Us and Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove, a beautiful, sparsely written account of late blossoming love.
I also fell in love with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.
A delightful dish.
The converse, of course, is that we have also read some real duds where it became a badge of honour to plough through to THE END.
For me, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road was a real slog and Oscar Wilde’s only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, first published in book form in 1891, didn’t hit the spot either.
Only novel? What a blessing!
If the clock could be turned back and I could become an A-level student again, I’d enjoy unpicking Wilde’s philosophical exploration of what the book jacket describes as ‘the inter-relationship between art, life, and consequence and Wilde’s self-conscious experiment with the notion of sin as an element of design’.
Whatever that means.
In simple terms, the story follows Dorian Gray, a rich, narcissistic young gentleman, who is befriended by portrait painter Basil Hallward and the deeply cynical aristocrat Lord Henry Wotton.
Young and beautiful
Basil declares Dorian his muse and paints his portrait.
Inevitably, Dorian falls in love with his own image and wishes he could remain young and beautiful forever.
And, of course, he does.
But spurred on by Lord Henry, he embarks on a hedonistic lifestyle and, though he remains physically untainted by his selfish, self-indulgences, the face of the man in the portrait reflects all his debaucheries.
Price of everything
In its day, The Picture of Dorian Gray was considered a bit of a shocker.
Today, it’s generally acclaimed as a classic and some of Wilde’s bon mots – such as the remark about a man who ‘knows the price of everything and the value of nothing’ – have become part of everyday language.
However, sometimes less is more and it was partway through one of Lord Henry’s interminable monologues that I came to the conclusion that a) Wilde was too clever for his own good; and b) he liked the sound of his own voice too much.
The witty aphorisms were coming too thick and fast for pleasure.
The reader has barely digested one, before being force-fed the next.
Enough. Slow down. Let me savour what I’ve already consumed without overloading my senses.
It’s a real shame, I wasn’t introduced to The Picture of Dorian Gray at school or university because the rich, metaphorical language would have been an absolute feast.
But these days, I read for fun not to challenge my little grey cells.
Review by Sue Featherstone.
Available to buy on Amazon.