Sep 23 2009

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar WildeMy reading frenzy continues with Oscar Wilde‘s “The Picture of Dorian Gray“. I’ve been wanting to read this for quite some time. I’ve always liked Oscar Wilde’s writing, even if he does resort to formula on a regular basis. Wilde’s purpose for writing books sometimes seems to be nothing more than creating a venue to parade his epigrams. It doesn’t take long to tire of characters stating “There are two types of people…” or “The only thing worse than…”. Despite this, the ageless story moves swiftly, deftly, and enjoyably.

The only part of the book that grinds to a crawl is Chapter 11. The chapter (while interesting) allows Wilde to inundate the reader with a rich history of Luxury, that adds less to the story than to our insight of the author’s own passions. This is a small gripe in an otherwise classic and captivating tale.

When summarizing, I like to end with a quote from the piece. That’s not an easy task with Oscar Wilde as every page seems packed with memorable phrases. The task of finding one to end this review is not unlike throwing a die and accepting fate’s decision. So from a list I culled while reading, that is what I’ve done:

“I suppose it comes from the fact that none of us can stand other people having the same faults as ourselves.”

5 out of 5

Sep 22 2009

Heart of Darkness

Joseph ConradToday, I finished Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”. A great many things have been written about this short story by people with degrees in such things. I very much doubt there’s much that I can add to that scholarship in the minutes remaining before I go to bed tonight. Let me instead give a few impressions and sum up the story for those of you who find Cliff Notes too long-winded.

The narrative follows one man’s river journey deep into the jungles of Africa (which I don’t think is explicitly named) sometime in the late 19th century. As the continent and its people are revealed to the speaker, he learns of a “man of virtue” named Kurtz who lives deep in the jungle. Everyone seems to think very highly of this man though no one seems to know him well, least of all the person that claims to know him best. If that doesn’t seem like a complete or compelling story, you’re not alone. ¬†As Marlow begins to tell his tale, the narrator calls the impending tale (a tale of a tale?) “one of Marlow’s inconclusive experiences.”

My impressions of the book are mixed. The story is densely written so that even at 100+ pages (your typesetting may vary), the book seemed much, much longer. Conrad’s command of English (his third language, come to find out) is extraordinary. If there’s anyone alive today that can speak like this man could write, people’s brains would combust trying to follow one sentence to the next. Keep in mind, I’m not a fan of stringing words together just for the thrill of flexing one’s vocabulary (I’m looking at you, New Yorker). In this respect, Conrad sits on a throne of OED volumes at on one end of a spectrum while Hemingway and Dr. Seuss sit at the other end with six-toed cats and servings of roast-beast. This is not to say it’s incoherent, far from it… Perhaps all that filler-DNA could hold new insights and purpose upon subsequent readings, I’m not sure. This is not a book to read if you’re looking for a tidy resolution. This is a book that leaves you thinking about what you read long after you’ve put it down.

“We live, as we dream — alone.”

4 out of 5