First off I have to warn you that I love Oscar Wilde. Anything he ever said or wrote will be pure genius to me because I love him that much, with that being said I'm going to be honest about this book because I don't think this is a book that everyone would enjoy. This novel is about a young and very handsome man named Dorian Gray who wishes that his portrait of himself that his friend painted for him would age and bare the weight of his sins instead of himself, and he gets his wish.
Oscar is known for his wit and comedic plays, while Dorian is not without its comedic and witty moments, it is much more serious than Oscar's comedic plays. This is his only novel, and the writing is beautiful but very wordy. There are large passages in this book that are philosophical and beautifully crafted, but do not move the plot forward at all, or even mention the characters names. I can easily see how people would absolutely detest this book for that reason. Wilde makes many references to classical literature and theater that can also be frustrating because the modern reader is not familiar with these stories. This is definitely a slower read, and although it is rather short, it takes all of your attention.
With all that being said, if you are a fan of Oscar, or this kind of writing I highly recommend this book. Passages of this book could be separated from the plot and characters and read on their own and still be just as powerfully packed full of theme as an entire novel. The prologue of this novel in and of itself is an amazing piece on art and the perception of art and the artist. I usually try to separate the artist from the art, as Oscar suggests in the prologue, but this novel is made even more poignant by the knowledge of Oscar's weakness for youth and beauty and the trouble it would later cause him in his life.
Dorian Gray is a very interesting character, and this book makes many points and contains many themes on beauty, art, admiration, influence, sin, people as works of art, and the pursuit of beauty among other topics. Although this novel is a serious piece, it still contains those witty and funny one liners that Oscar had such a talent for.
In an attempt to wrap this up (I tend to go on forever whenever Oscar is involved) I will say this, to lovers of classical literature who don't mind philosophical tangents, read this book. If this book doesn't sound like your cup of tea, don't let it deter you from reading Oscar. I suggest starting with some of his short stories, I mention a few here or one of his plays, such as The Importance of Being Earnest which I reviewed here. His plays are especially enjoyable if you can listen to them out loud.
And the last thing I would like to share is this painting inspired by Oscar's novel which I saw at the Chicago Art Institute a few summers back.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Ivan Albright.