Tuesday, 12 January 2010

OSCAR'S BOOKS by THOMAS WRIGHT


'Art, as so often happens, had taken the place of personal experience...'

- Oscar Wilde, The Portrait of Mr W.H.

This is a splendid book about Oscar Wilde - stylish, idiosyncratic and full of insight, much like its subject. Thomas Wright is a character who has strayed from a story Borges may have written - an obsessive Wilde-phile who has conceived the ambition to read every book Wilde ever read, and to amass a duplicate of Wilde's own book collection, either acquiring Wilde's own books where possible or books we know he read in the editions he must have owned.

But these revelations are left for last, after a fascinating, illuminating look at the life of a man who truly seems to have invented himself out of the things he picked up from his 'golden books'. We see the subtle and not so subtle relations between Wilde's reading and his own writings and ideas and follow the lifelong odyssey of a man whose love for reading helped him endure the rigours of a darker fate than he ever deserved.

While Wright might have written a more sensational book by foregrounding his own Wildeian bibliophilic quest, I think he has made the right decision by leaving it for a personal afterword.

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