Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders by Gyles Brandreth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Historically accurate? Yes. Fun? Less so.
I have no doubts the author has the background knowledge to write this story, he proves it with a four page bio at the end. But when you write a story about Oscar Wilde, and include a 1.5 page bio of him at the end, should the bio on yourself be 3 times longer? It seems a little conceited, and that’s not the only time this comes up. The author, as the narrator Robert Sherard, is taken into Wilde’s confidence a little too effusively, it begins to grate. For example, Wilde recalls his wedding night to Constance with explicit XXX detail and the narrator stops him, saying “No, Oscar, ça c’est sacré” which seems over the top to me, like who does the author think he is reproaching Wilde?
Another thing that is brought up with the sacré quote is the homosexuality in the book. Everyone is gay in this book except Wilde. Wilde surrounds himself with rent boys who he knows are gay and are attracted to him, who write him long notes of their infatuation, and Wilde never acts, is never tempted, and is portrayed as being purer than driven snow. The one time Wilde mentions sex in the book, the sacré quote above, it’s about a woman. I glanced through a biography of Wilde as this seemed out of place, and in fact a similar story was relayed about Wilde talking explicitly about his wedding night, however that author seemed to think it was him covering for his homosexuality by boasting about his heterosexuality, something not considered here.
Also I think as a reader we are looking for Wilde to be gay. The story involves lots of gay sex, a young male prostitute, the author is not shy about the subject, to an unbelievable extent for Victorian times. Yet in this hyper-sexualized setting we are presented with the sexless Wilde of The Green Carnation and something doesn’t gel.
I will say that I cannot imagine a time when you weren’t identified by your sexual orientation as there was only one, that the word homosexual didn’t exist. I can’t imagine being gay in these circumstances and I would imagine it was a little like what the author presents, but then how can that be reconciled with tales of gay sex that Wilde tells explicitly, in front of women no less?
The mystery was over-complicated, I knew it did it a few pages before it was revealed but not way before, which was good. Who did it though was really over-shadowed by the ornate over-the-top aspects of the reveal, so that was less good. Overall enjoyable enough, but not really what I was looking for when I picked up the book.
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