Friday, November 30, 2012

Christmas Baking: Shortbread biscuits with caramel centre

Last year I was super broke come Christmas time, so when deciding on a present for Tom's parents and grandparents I baked a bunch of biscuits for them and put them into pretty reusable biscuit jars. In anticipation of a similar broke status and desire to bake (what is it about Christmas that makes baking so much more wonderful?) I picked up a copy of Women's Weekly Christmas Baking, one of the greatest recipe books ever. For anyone ever wanting to bake or cook, check out Ebay for these cookbooks (they have one for absolutely everything, and their huge COOK cookbook is out of this world), because Women's Weekly (a magazine here in Australia) triple tests their recipes in different residential ovens. This is important, dear friends, because commercial ovens operate completely differently to the one in your kitchen, which is why you've possibly had unsuccessful attempts at cooking those fancy recipes from those fancy chefs (can you sense my frustration here?). Anyway, recipes that work + Christmas + baking + rustic little gift wrap options = super fantastic and awesome. Although I really wanted to test out the eggnog macarons, I decided to test something that looked a little easier and just as tasty. And since they were so goddamn good, I'm going to share them for you here now. These are my third batch of them, and they're definitely getting a little better each time, so if you don't make melt in the mouth shortbread the first time around DON'T PANIC!

Shortbread Biscuits with Caramel filling*:


395g (12 1/2 ounces) canned sweetened condensed milk
250g (8 ounces) butter (softened)
3/4 cup icing/confectioner's sugar (sifted)
1 1/2 cup plain/all purpose flour (sifted) - I actually added a little less than this, maybe 1 or 2 tbsp less.
1/2 cup wheaten cornflour/cornstarch (sifted)
2 tsp ground cinnamon


1. Preheat oven to 160 deg C/325 deg F and line some trays with baking paper.
2. Beat softened butter and icing sugar until light and fluffy.
3. Stir in the flour, cornflour and cinnamon, in two batches. Make sure it's completely mixed. For melt in the mouth shortbread it needs to be nice and buttery, so if it looks crumbly it won't turn out as nice as it should.
4. Dust your hands in flour and start rolling the mixture into small balls (about 1.5cm diameter) and place them onto the trays. These don't expand too much, but you should probably leave about an inch or so in between each biscuit.
5. Dip a fork into flour (it makes sure it doesn't stick to the biscuits) and gently press each ball down a little.
6. Bake for about 15 minutes (but check at 10 just in case). Stand the shortbread on the tray for about 5 minutes until they cool just a touch, and then transfer them over to wire trays.

To Make Caramel: 

This can be done either before or after the biscuits have been made. Once the caramel is in them though they don't last as long so if you're making the biscuits ahead of time, leave the caramel to the day of or day before they're needed.

1.  preheat oven to 220 deg C/425 deg F.
2. Pour condensed milk into a shallow oven-proof dish and cover in foil. Place this dish into a roasting pan or similar. Add boiling water to the pan/dish until it comes about halfway up the side of the dish with the caramel inside. This water needs to remain at around this height, so be sure to keep an eye on it and top it up if need me. Otherwise you'll burn the caramel, which will make you sad.
3. Bake for about 1.5 hours (check caramel every half hour or so) until the condensed milk is a nice brown, or y'know caramel, colour.
4. Remove and leave to cool until it's needed. When you're ready to fill the biscuits, whisk the caramel until it's smooth and then go for gold!


*Concentrate the caramel to the centre of the biscuit, because once the lid goes on the caramel will spread and possibly dribble over the side.
*If the dough mixture is a little soft (this'll probably be a problem only for those of us in the sunny Southern Hemisphere) put the bowl into the fridge for 5 minutes and it'll firm up.
*Use a teaspoon so that you can get the balls as similar in size as possible. It makes matching them up a whole lot easier.
*Add some orange zest, vanilla or another spice to the dough in the butter/sugar stage for something a little different.
*Leave the caramel out and make larger biscuits for something less sweet but still super tasty.

*This recipe is adapted slightly from the original recipe in the Women's Weekly Christmas Baking cookbook, but the recipe remains theirs.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Review: The Jazz Cage by Ray Chen Smith

The Jazz Cage 
Written by: Ray Chen Smith

Published: 2012

Synopsis: It is 1924—sixty years after the South’s victory in the Civil War.

Frank McCluey, bounty hunter for the mob, is sent to help out a wealthy Virginian bootlegger. Frank’s job: track down two female slaves who’ve run away from the millionaire.

But the mob has made a bad choice. Instead of capturing the women, Frank decides to help them escape to Canada, his mission now aided by the pint-sized but steel-willed runaway Della and the outlawed Underground Railroad.

Soon Della and Frank become the target of slave catchers, cops, gangsters, and most chilling of all, a Confederate agent nicknamed the Hound for his ability to always sniff out and kill his prey

Set in an alternate 1920s America where the South won the Civil War and seceded from the North, the Jazz Cage offers a dynamic tale of secrets, mobsters, and race relations.

The secession both changes everything and nothing. Arnold Rothstein is still a big name in the underworld, jazz still plays and the twenties still roar but, and this is a pretty big but, America is divided in two and an entire group of people are subjugated and refused the most basic of rights. This changes everything, even for those in the "free" north, and above all else, this book provides a chilling alternative look at what could have been. And while I'm not American, this change has a knock-on effect - if America was divided, would they have joined WWII? If they had, would they have the same power? Would the South have joined the allies or the axis? Would racial segregation and inequality have ever ended? How would this affect other countries who have had their own issues with inequality? Would America have gone to the moon? Would the Cold War have happened? The Vietnam war? Would a black man ever be made president? Sure, these issues aren't actually raised, as such, in the book but they are implicit the second history was shifted and the ramifications add weight to a story that otherwise is much narrower in scope.

The book is paced fairly well, delivering past glimpses into their lives only when necessary to uncover another dimension to the character. When we're first introduced to the three protagonists, Frank, Cece and Della, their characters seem fairly prosaic. Frank works for the mob, and understandably seems to be lacking the capacity for basic emotions or empathy, unless to do with the young and impetuous Isaac, who rarely leaves his side. He seems tired, bored and unable to muster a single care for anyone else. Della and Cece are both escaped slaves, Della is strong and independent and fiercely protective of the young and vulnerable Cece, who, through systematic abuse and trauma, has the emotional capacity of a child. However as the book continues you learn that none of them are quite so easy to define. All three have pasts which have lead them to build walls around themselves, to hide their true selves away from further harm. As the story continues with the three of them together, they struggle behind their individual walls, wondering whether it's safe to lower the gangway or if, like everyone else they've ever met, this new travelling companion(s) is going to take advantage and lead them to ruin.

It all comes down, in the end, to trust. If you're a slave who has spent your whole life being abused and lied to by white men, how can you truly trust the pudgy white guy who says he can get you to Canada? And when a mobster who is hired to capture you and take you back to your owner, how can you ever believe that he wants to help you? And if you were always closed off to the world, until a chance meeting with a captivating and wilful woman changed everything and then left too soon, would you be trusting of any feelings that might begin to bubble below the surface? Letting down the walls, trusting, believing that when people say something they actually mean it, it's all symptomatic of this alternate world and the environment they've been forced to live in.

The book explores all of this as Frank, Della and Cece struggle to make their way up to Canada. With the disgruntled slave owner, the mob, the police and their lack of trust working against them, the three protagonists take one hell of a ride. It's packed with action, adventure, humour and it's thought-provoking. It isn't the perfect book, but it has all the ingredients for a good book and Ray Chen Smith mixes them together just about right.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Monday Links

*I attempted to put my thoughts into words about the passing of author Bryce Courtenay on Friday, but perhaps I should leave it to the people who do it for a living. Here's one of the Australian newspaper's obituaries. (Via Herald Sun)

*John Mellencamp and Stephen King have a musical coming out next year. Need I say more? (Via AV  Club)

*Rather than post them myself, head over to Belle's Bookshelf to watch all the trailers for the latest books to be turned into films. Some look pretty promising. (Via Belle's Bookshelf)

*I've just gotten back into True Blood (I watched season 1-2 a year or so ago) and I have a lot of feels and thoughts. Comment below or tweet me if you have a similar urge.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

RIP Bryce Courtenay, an amazing author

The African/Australia author Bryce Courtenay passed away yesterday at the age of 79. There have been many, many authors who have captured my mind and my imagination, but Bryce Courtenay was the first author to really captivate me as an Australian. Although several of his books (and perhaps his most famous) take place in his home country of South Africa, the books set in Australia were game-changing. They showed a side of Australia that I never saw growing up in the cities and suburbs, and that was definitely absent from Home and Away and Neighbours, yet they felt unmistakably Australian. I recognised the yearning, the love of the outdoors, the bigger than life hopes and aspirations  They were things that spoke to me, as an Australian, in such a primal way that I'm having trouble putting them into words. He told the story of the average Australian, and of the average Australian family. He told their stories so well, that some of his characters feel more real to me than people I grew up with. He made me fall in love with boxing. Or at least, in literature he made me fall in love with boxing and recognise the poetry and beauty that exists within it, although I've never managed to find that in an actual game of boxing. He made me want to go to Africa, and to learn more about plants. He opened my eyes to the "secret" atrocities perpetrated on Australian soldiers in Sandakan, something that was hushed up for many years, and sadly aren't known as well today as they should be. He never wrote a one sided character, and their flaws made them so easy to love, and then hate, and then understand. He made me cry in every single one of his books.  Four Fires is still one of the most intense and wonderful books I've ever read, and every time I reread it I feel like I'm going home to visit my family. April Fool's Day was the most honest autobiography I've ever read, and it broke my heart at how hard on himself Courtenay was, but at the same time I can't help but feel proud that he never took the easy way out, he owned up to his actions. Bryce Courtenay is the kind of man who you need to read up on. He's larger than any of his books, and has lived a life that has been weaved into many of his stories which perhaps is why they live on the page so vividly.

Australia lost a favourite author and adopted son yesterday, he will be missed.

Friday, November 23, 2012

TV Review: The Tudors (2007)

What pushed me to finally read Wolf Hall (and you should all read it, seriously, do it now) was finishing the Showtime series The Tudors, and being desperate for more. Partly because the series reawakened an interest of mine for English history and partly because it failed to deliver on quite a few fronts and I needed some kind of satisfying conclusion. That's not to say it's a bad series, but it's rather one-sided and trips over its own feet from time to time.

The biggest problem the show struggles with is sex. Undoubtedly the original pitch for this show was "attractive ye olde English King has sex with everything that moves, and then beheads bitches and stuff". Yes, Henry the VIII had 6 wives and countless mistresses, but the problem with centring a series around sex is that it makes it very difficult to show the characters in a bad light. No one wants to see the sex king get old, or invalid, or deal with the paperwork associated with being the head of an empire. It also, unless you're a porn addict, gets old pretty quick.

The series takes place between 1491 and 1547, and it's only in the last episode that Jonathan Rhys Meyers looks significantly older. Before then it wasn't advantageous to have a lecherous old king with the young women he chose as brides, not really TV friendly. Sure, they changed his hair style, put him in slightly bulkier clothes and added a few creases around his eyes during the last season or two, but considering how much weight Henry VIII gained and how gross history reports he became it's kind of laughable. Not to mention the Pantomime-esque old man voice Meyers employs to get across his old age.

"old" Henry VIII
As someone watching the show for the history and not just the sex, the lack of aging makes it extremely difficult to tell how much time has passed. Is it a matter of weeks, months or years between Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves? Who knows, since EVERYONE LOOKS THE SAME. It also doesn't help that aside from Anne Boleyn and Catherine of Aragon who get 2 seasons, each of the other queens get about 4-5 episodes each. This means they're basically cardboard cut-outs there to  move the story along for the king, but with very little personality or motivation of their own. Because the show isn't badly written though, you get these bright little glimpses at who the queen could be if they were given the time and space to develop properly as a character. Yes, aside from the first two queens the others didn't have lengthy posts as Queen but they had more than enough time to have a personality.

BUT, complaints aside, this isn't a bad show. In fact, it's quite a good show. I'm not sure I'd say I'm a Jonathan Rhys Meyers fan, but Sam Neil (Cardinal Wolsey), Henry Cavill (Charles Brandon) and Maria Doyle Kennedy (Catherine of Aragon), amongst others, were unbelievably good and really elevated the program to great heights. Even the singer Joss Stone who played Anne of Cleves was good, something I had not expected when I saw her name listed on IMDB.

And once the Anne Boleyn story is finished, the show manages to look wider than their court, especially in relation to the riots and systematic execution of countless Englishmen/women/children who didn't agree with Henry as head of church. Prior to that, the break from church was mostly seen as it related to the union of Anne and Henry and the whispers that abounded in court. After that, the realities set in, and the whole disastrous event is beautifully and heartbreakingly played out on the screen.

Visually is where this show hits its greatest heights. the costumes are phenomenal and subtly reflect the history and future of each character, the locations are selected with care and the composition of the shots and editing choices clearly were meticulously crafted. The shots outside of London were always great examples of this, but perhaps it was the executions that best reflected the care and talent that went into this show. The monologues that each character gave before death were some of the best writing of the show, but visually, wow, visually they really hit it out of the park. The death of Catherine Howard, in particular, stood out as both tragic and beautiful when I watched it, and utterly captivating.

I guess it was a bit of an experiment, an attempt to bank on the popularity of history (especially when it involves sex) and translate the big screen events such as Elizabeth to TV. Ultimately I'd say that in spite of the flaws, the over-sexed narrative and over-attractive (and youthful) cast and historical inaccuracies aside, the series was a success and worth a watch. Just be ready to roll your eyes and cringe a few times.

death comes riding.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Christmas happenings on Nylon Admiral

Hello friends!

I know things have been a little quiet on here lately (life y'know) but to make up for it, and because I love Christmas oh so much, I'm going to be posting a Christmas recipe every Friday starting next week, and a few other Christmas related posts (like my DIY decoration post last year) scattered here and there.

Hope you all enjoy them as much as I'm enjoying putting them together!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Review: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall

Written by: Hilary Mantel

Published: 2009

Synopsis: England, the 1520s. Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is his chief advisor, charged with securing the divorce the Pope refuses to grant. Into this atmosphere of distrust and need comes Thomas Cromwell, first as Wolsey's clerk, and later his successor. Cromwell is a wholly original man: the son of a brutal blacksmith, a political genius, a briber, a charmer, a bully, a man with a delicate and deadly expertise in manipulating people and events.

Ruthless in pursuit of his own interests, he is as ambitious in his wider politics as he is for himself. His reforming agenda is carried out in the grip of a self-interested parliament and a king who fluctuates between romantic passions and murderous rages.

A month or so ago I listed Wolf Hall on my Top 10 Tuesday books-I-should-read-but-holy-shit-they-terrify-me-and-i-just-don't-think-I-can-do-it list. A few weeks later I decided to man up and get a forklift to carry the book down off my bookcase and crack open the cover. And what happened? Well, once again I realised how ridiculous it is to let size or content scare you away, because it is almost always an AMAZING book that you're missing out on.

Like every book to every be written about England in the 16th century, Wolf Hall deals with the soap-opera that is King Henry VIII, but unlike the others that came before, that's really peripheral action. What this book is truly about is Thomas Cromwell, a man few people have more of a shadow of knowledge about. Typically he is reduced to an over-the-top villain, someone who manipulated and ployed and took pleasure destroying the lives and families of people he opposed. But who really believes that? How often do you come across a person who is wholly good or wholly evil, especially in history? This book takes you back to the start, right back to when Cromwell was a small boy with a penchant for fights, and tries to unravel the mystery wrapped in an enigma that is Thomas Cromwell.

Now, this isn't to say that Henry and his lovely (*cough, cough*) wife Anne don't feature heavily in this book. They do and they must, considering how intricately entwined Cromwell and Anne's rise to favour is. But it purposely shies away from just being another tell all tale, and dissects how much both the King and Anne grew to rely on Cromwell, even while he was still just a clerk for Cardinal Wolsey. Further, the relationship between Anne and Henry, which for all accounts seems to have consistently been unstable at best, mirrors the instability of Cromwell's career (and anyone else's I suppose). It was so easy to fall out of favour with the king, as we saw with Wolsey when he was unable to secure a church sanctioned divorce, or More when he refused to accept the switch in church head. The King was able to lift you to great heights, with him you could transform from blacksmith's son to King's chief of council or from lady to Queen, but if you fail to give him whatever it is he desires, sons, loyalty, money, youth...well, let's just hope you aren't too fond of your neck.

Moving away from Henry and Anne though, this book (I think anyway) does a stellar job filling the blanks and creating a man who isn't simply two-dimensional but is full of contradictions, and ill-made decisions, and pride and folly and a love for small dogs he calls Bella; all of those good and not so good things that make us human. Whether it's factually correct I don't know, although I know Mantel is a stickler for research, but I'm more than happy to allow for some creative allowances in order to open up a character who was always so private. One of the real beauties of this book, is that we're shown several sides of Cromwell. There's the merchant, the lawyer, the mentor, the lowly born man rising through the ranks, the confidant, the husband and father who loves his family more than the world;
"She almost never sees him; why is he here? But she trusts him and lets him lift her, without protest, into his arms. Against his shoulder she tumbles at once into sleep, her arms flung around his neck, the crown of her head tucked beneath his chin"
But what I loved most about him, in the book anyway, is how preoccupied with his past he is and how others perceive him. Sure, he hides it well, but there's a seething rage barely contained any time anyone mentions his early life as the son of a blacksmith (or one of the many rumours circulating about him) and a barely covered glee when one such person gets knocked down a peg or two. He tries to be a gentleman, mostly for the advantage of his son and wards, but he can't escape his past as a angry and violent young man, and after overhearing a young musician describe him as having the face of a murderer he returns to this description at times of low self-esteem.
"I see how you would look like a lawyer. Not like a murderer, no. But if you will forgive me, master, you always looks like a man who knows how to cut up a carcase"
 When I first sat down and started reading this book I was a little dismayed. I found the style confronting, most likely because it has quite a modern bent but also for the first chapter or two the narration is quite removed from the action (almost like recounting a dream) so I felt so peripheral to the story and unable to get a decent hold on it. Luckily, this style settles down a bit during the guts of the story which takes place between 1520-1535. Or maybe I just got used to it. One thing that did consistently trip me up was Mantel's use of 'he' as interchangable with 'Cromwell' but then also using is as a personal pronoun to describe other people. It means having to re-read sections to work out if 'he' is Cromwell, or perhaps More, or King Henry, or Cromwell's son, or the pope or...well you get the picture. Also, and this isn't the fault of Mantel, why must everyone be called Thomas, Mary and Henry. Seriously, there are maybe four characters who don't share these first names. And when Mantel then goes on to introduce a character as Thomas More, then just Thomas, then he or Duke of Windsor (which I know More wasn't, but EXAMPLES) all in the space for half a page...well, confusion reigned.

But anyway,  I really, really liked this monster of a book and can't wait to get my hands on the sequel Bring in the Bodies. If you don't like historical fiction, I doubt this one is for you, since part of the attraction is seeing the events of that era through fresh eyes and delving into a well-known, but little understood character. But who knows, the strength of the writing style, characterisation and content (there's a fair bit about life, tradition and relationships in the 16th century) might be enough to pull you over into our side (team historical fiction!). For those of you who do like historical fiction, this is a fresh, interesting and captivating look at a subject that I usually view as equal measures tiring (another tv series/movie/book? Really?) and intriguing. And if you don't come out the other side kinda loving Cromwell then you clearly read the wrong book!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Monday Links

^Censor the word count and this song takes on a whoooooole new meaning. I'd like to think the writers on the "street" planned this all along.

*I don't think it holds water, but nonetheless this article in defence of Twilight is interesting (Via Sound on Sight)

*The Broke and the Bookish are hosting another Secret Santa! So if you love giving and receiving books for Christmas, then head over and check it out! (Via The Broke and the Bookish)

*Gabe of Gabriel Reads has a new non-bookish blog, The Mind of Gabe, which I'm thoroughly enjoying so you should go visit it so you can say that you thoroughly enjoy it too (Via The Mind of Gabe)

*New Les Mis trailer (I know I'm late, I know) that makes me even more excited for this film. (Via Vulture)

*Holy shit. I love baking difficult recipes, but if these 2 ingredient recipes provided by Buzzfeed actually work...well, just WOW. I'm especially interested in trying the Greek yoghurt pizza dough and the nutella cake (*edit* Nutella cake is awesome sauce)  (Via Buzzfeed)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Mini-Graphic Novel Reviews #11

Chew Volume #1

Written by: John Layman, Illustrated by: Rob Guillory

Published: 2009

My Thoughts: Chew is brilliant in its ridiculousness. Tony Chu is a Chibopathic, meaning that if he eats something he can see it's entire past, which provides him with a unique skill to solve crimes with. Right there you have a premise which you know is going to make you squirm, giggle and gag continuously. Throw in a blanket ban on chicken after a world wide epidemic of bird flu, mobsters controlling a chicken black market (which is my kind of black market) and a food reviewer with a special talent of her own and you have a funny, bizarre and completely unpredictable comic.

The Killing Joke
Written by: Alan Moore, Illustrated by: Brian Bolland

Published: 1995

My Thoughts: This graphic novel is a must read. It's extremely short, but in such a small amount of pages it manages to reveal a great deal about Batman and one of the greatest Batman villains, The Joker. The book contains two entwined stories, the events that lead to a failed comedian becoming The Joker and an attack by The Joker on Commissioner Gordon and his daughter which is 100 shades of depraved. Fundamentally this story is about how easily a 'bad day' can flick that switch in your brain and make you into someone like The Joker, and that's his end goal with Gordon. How can you  hunt down a man when it is so easy to become just like him? Can you really judge him as harshly once you know the capacity we all have of turning 'bad'? I won't spoil the result, but this was a hell of a stand-alone graphic novel that went on to change Batman continuity so yeah, read it.

Written by: Neil Gaiman, Illustrated by: John Romita Jr

Published: 2007

My Thoughts: So it turns out that "gods" exist, are walking among us, but don't remember the powers they hold or the history they've witnessed.I went into this small collection not knowing that it was tied to an original series by Jack Kirby, and that meant that the whole time I felt like I was missing some important information, but I never knew what it was.  The premise is intriguing, the writing is good (it is Gaiman after all), the art is solid but the story gets a little weird and confusing. Until I read the original Kirby story I can't really say whether I think this story is patchy, successful or a bit of both, but to be honest it didn't interest me enough to send me out looking for the rest, so let's just leave it with a resounding MEH.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray 

Written by: Oscar Wilde

Published: 1890

Synopsis: Written in his distinctively dazzling manner, Oscar Wilde’s story of a fashionable young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty is the author’s most popular work.

You know how you might have tried to read a book  100 different times and a bunch of different ages but for some reason it never resonated, and then the 101st time you take a look at it and *click* suddenly the language and style and characters

Well that's what The Picture of Dorian Gray has been for me. I first tried to read it at 16 and got about 2 sentences in and had to put it down, the next time I was a little bit more successful but after putting it down one night 2 chapters in I was never motivated to keep reading. I can't say I have a reason why I could never get into it, but something stonewalled every attempt I made and I was mostly resigned to the fact that me and Dorian were never going to get to know each other. As luck might have it, this was one of the reads for the "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Challenge" and when I decided to start it for the 101st time I somehow got straight into it. Weird right?  For whatever reason, this time around I had no issue with the language or connecting with the story. I never really got far enough into it to make any judgements, but this time around I found myself loving everything about it, the language, the characters, the jokes and cynicism, the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) homo-eroticism that Oscar Wilde weaves into the story.

The premise of this book is one all of you probably know already. A young and impressionable dude decides he likes his face and the fact that the youth get all the fun, and when he sees an exceptionally good painting of himself, wishes that he could stay as he is and stain the picture with his age and disgrace and anger. As supernatural and borderline horror as this seems, it really makes up a small part of the story. Even after the deal has been made (to which Dorian is somewhat unaware) and he notices some imperceptible differences to the portrait, the book remains attentive to Dorian and his crazy ego and the crazy ego of his best friend Lord Henry. The why and how of the painting is never explored, and instead is used as a literal marker to demonstrate the deplorable nature of Dorian Gray and how much his actions tarnish his soul and his character.

Dorian Gray, to me, is a pretty boring character. He's snooty and upper-class-y and seems to be in a perpetual funk. He also has an obnoxious habit of making the fault of his actions the fault of someone else. Like when he decides he no longer loves Sybil because he realises she's an actual person and not a constant parade of sad and desperate Shakespearean heroines, he blasts at her that she's destroyed his love and that it is unfair to him for her to do such a thing etc etc. That's one of the mildest of examples, but without spoiling the events of the novels I can't unpack the true extent of his jackassery. Jackassery aside, he's a pretty vanilla character. What makes him interesting, other than owning a painting that does the ageing for him, is how easily shaped he is by the people around him. He's like a sponge or a lump of clay, just bending easily to the thoughts and opinions of whomever his number 1 friend is at the time. It happens that Lord Henry is this friend most of the time and, in some ways, responsible for the entire crap-fest that follows Dorian's regrettable deal with the devil/painting gods.

Lord Henry is amazing. Like, I actively hated him after hearing the first sentence out of his mouth, but he's so god damn entertaining and completely makes the book. He obnoxiously has an opinion on absolutely everything and ALWAYS has to deviate from whatever the popular opinion is. Madame Whats-it thinks love is for losers? Lord Henry thinks love is what makes the world go round. Young Lady Hoo-ha thinks love is lovely, and suddenly Lord Henry thinks it's demonstrative of her youth and naivete and femininity and one day she'll realise there is no such thing as love. His greatest opinion, and the one that sways Dorian the most, is about the importance of beauty over intelligence. Over and over through the story, and you should know this spans about 20 years (maybe a little under), Henry waffles on and on about how unlucky you are if you're intelligent, why it's such a bummer and how lucky Dorian is for being such a pretty faced boy. He champions vanity as truth, and intelligence as the cowardly disregard for what is true and honest in life. Actually, the way he champions this dichotomy in conversation after conversation with Dorian made it feel as though Dorian was a project that Henry had taken up to see how far he could drive a person to think his way. I can practically imagine the young scholar that Henry visits after stopping by Dorian's to spin the same argument but in reverse. This isn't to say Dorian is a victim in this book, he certainly isn't, but I can't help but wonder what would have happened if Basil the painter had had his way and kept Lord Henry from Dorian.

The story is pretty slow-going to start, and there were probably about three conversations between Dorian and Henry in the first section of the book that could have been done away with, but after Dorian falls in (and out of) love Sybil and notices the first difference in the painting it begins to pick up the pace and once it get going it's much easier to stay engaged. Oscar Wilde is a delightful writer, verbose at times, but he manages to be both lyrical and poetic while also very acerbic and sharp prose. The dialogue is where he truly shines, which, you know, for a playwright is to be expected, but seriously, there are zingers and potshots in just about every single conversation line. It makes it much more bearable to read conversations between rich old white dudes, and also makes me think Oscar Wilde and I could have been good friends.

And on that note, here are a few excerpts to demonstrate Mr Wilde's awesomeness;

"A man can be happy with any woman, as long as he does not love her"

(on the painting) "The very sharpness of the contrast used to quicken his sense of pleasure. He grew more and more enamoured of his own beauty, more and more interested in the corruption of his own soul"

"We live in an age when unnecessary things are our only necessities"

"I felt that this monstrous London of ours, with its myriads of people, its sordid sinners, and its splendid sins, as you once phrased it, must have something in store with me"

"The basis for optimism is sheer terror. We hink that we are generous because we credit our neighbour with the possession of those virtues that are likely to be a benefit to us. We praise the banker that we may overdraw our account, and find good qualities in the highwayman in the hope that he may spare our pockets. I mean everything that I have said. I have the greatest contempt for optimism. As for a spoiled life, no life is spoiled but one whose growth is arrested. If you want to mar nature, you have merely to reform it"

"Women are a decorative sex. They never have anything to say, but they say it charmingly. Women represent the triumph of matter over mind, just as men represent the triumph of mind over morals"

So yeah as that last quote hints, It's very male-centric, and women get a pretty bad run in it, but aside from that (which was hard to bear from time to time) and a few pacing issues it was an interesting, humorous and provocative story which has some real parallels with life in our modern society.  If, like me, you've had trouble reading this one, maybe pick it up and give it another go and you might find yourself, for some reason, plowing straight through it and thoroughly enjoying it this time around.


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