Dorian, an Imitation  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Dorian, an Imitation is a 2002 novel by Will Self. The book is a modern take on Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. Set in the 1980s and '90s, it adheres closely to Wilde's original, even retaining characters' names with some alterations. It was originally published by Viking Press in 2002 and subsequently by Penguin in 2003.


It is the summer of 1981 and 'the royal broodmare' - as Henry Wotton has dubbed her - is about to be married to the Prince of Wales, while Brixton is in flames. Wotton, uneasily gay, egregiously drug-addicted and queasily snobbish, is at the centre of a Chelsea clique dedicated to a timeless dissolution. His friend Baz Hallward, a sometime Warhol acolyte and video installation artist, has discovered a most remarkable young man, the very epitome of male beauty, Dorian Gray.

Hallward's installation Cathode Narcissus captures all of Dorian's allure, but perhaps it's captured another more integral part of him as well? Certainly, after a night of debauchery that climaxes in a veritable conga line of buggery, Wotton and Hallward have been snared by a sinister retrovirus which becomes synonymous with the decade.

Sixteen years later the broodmare's shattered body lies dying in a Parisian underpass. But what of Wotton and Hallward? How did they fare as the stock-market soared and their T-cell counts plummeted? And what of Dorian, a sultan of style in an era of mass superficiality? How is it that he remains so healthy and youthful while all around him sicken and age and die?

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