Friday, March 07, 2008

The Weekly Shelf Talker: Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance

The Weekly Shelf Talker is our Friday column, in which a Vroman's employee recommends a great book, new or old, fiction or not, for you to enjoy. This week's Shelf Talker is from Jan Littler, who recommends Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance, by Gyles Brandreth:

I am a huge fan of Oscar Wilde. Perhaps it’s because we’re both Libras (which also, perhaps, explains our shared interest in things respective of law, order & justice). Or perhaps it’s because – whatever his birth sign – he remains a fascinating character – both the public and private man – more than 100 years after his death.

I am also a fan of this kind of mystery – nothing too grisly or explicit – mainly the solving of a puzzle. And yes, I did solve it, although not so early as to detract from the story. Besides, that’s not really why I read the book. To me, and I believe I can say the same for the author, when it comes to Oscar Wilde, everything else is simply an adjunct.

What was more interesting to me than the plot was who peopled it. It should come as no surprise that Wilde’s acquaintance, which was extensive, should include the prominent & noteworthy of his time. But it is always surprising which people one bonds with (to?) Arthur Conan Doyle – yes, that Arthur Conan Doyle – is an integral part of the book, as well as having been a close friend of Wilde’s. (I didn’t even know they knew each other. Surprise!)

There is always a danger in historical fiction when one is writing in the voice of a well-known personality. Especially one whose prose is so familiar to so many. Gyles Brandreth handles it brilliantly. How many of the bon mots are his & how many Wilde’s I’m not sure. Because the narrator, Robert Sherard (Wilde’s first & staunchest biographer), is telling the story in flashback, he is able to allude to other times & issues without detracting from the flow of the story. I do have one problem with the outcome, which I won’t reveal as it would give away too much, but having said that, it didn’t really bother me until after I had finished the book. (Ok, like 2 days later. “Wait a minute!” I said to myself….)

This is the first in a projected 9 stories spanning Wilde’s life from his Oxford days to his death in Paris in 1900. If book 2 is as engaging as this, I expect to be as anxious to read the rest of them as Wilde’s public was waiting for his next play.

Jan Littler works in the Customer Service Department and enjoys a broad range of subjects.

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