Book review: The Last Days of Oscar Wilde, by John Vanderslice

About The Last Days of Oscar Wilde

• Paperback: 350 pages
• Publisher: Burlesque Press, LLC (January 15, 2018)

How is it possible that the genius author of such 19th century classics as The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest died destitute in Paris at the age of 46? In John Vanderslice’s vivid and heartbreaking novel, we meet Oscar Wilde after a two year incarceration in an English prison for gross indecency. Once free, his reputation and finances in ruins, he leaves England for Paris where, frequently inebriated, he stays in shabby hotel rooms paid for by his few, remaining friends.

In Vanderslice’s deftly-imagined portrayal, Wilde’s idiosyncratic and affecting greatness is revealed. Through his thoughts and interactions, we experience the heart and mind of a literary giant brought down by the “morals” of his time. For a while, Wilde manages to maintain his legendary sense of humor and joie de vivre, a superstitious religiosity, and the dogged pursuit of beautiful young men. Sadly, the formerly prolific author and raconteur no longer has the desire to write. Instead, he distantly observes the world and is ultimately felled by serious illness. It is at his funeral that his artistic reputation begins its slow rehabilitation as friends and a small devoted public flock to the church to honor the artist, who spoke openly about homosexuality, the hypocrisy of Victorian values, and the importance of art for art’s sake.

My Review

Almost immediately, you’re drawn into Oscar Wilde’s life. It only takes a page or two, and his personality is so vivid that I began to feel as if I might know him. I don’t know much about Wilde historically, so I can’t speak as to the accuracy (or not) of this fictional story to the real history, but to me it was very good at painting a vibrant picture of not only his life, but of Paris at the time.

I really felt for Wilde, and I knew that his decline was coming as I read, but the last part portrayed it well, in fits and starts as I’d imagine his last days would seem, sober and then not, in pain and then not. The book gives me a greater appreciation of Wilde, and I will have to seek out more of his work (I’ve only read Dorian Grey).

I’m also impressed with the writing of the author, John Vanderslice. I may also be looking up some of his other works, too!

I was provided this book by the author for an honest review.


“With elegant prose and a glittering wit of which Wilde himself would approve, John Vanderslice brings to life this agent provocateur’s final act. Masterfully merges insight and imagination with the historical and literary record to provide a portrait that is rich and nuanced and utterly compelling.” – Rachel Hall, author of Heirlooms.

“John Vanderslice lays bare the consequences of Wilde’s betrayal by those whom he loved and trusted. The Last Days of Oscar Wilde is a grim reminder of the destructive power of senseless persecution.” —Jennifer Steil, author of The Woman Who Fell From the Sky.

“A quiet, tender portrait of a literary giant.” Kirkus Reviews

Purchase Links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble

About John Vanderslice

John Vanderslice is the author of Island Fog (Lavender Ink), a collection of ten stories and two novellas set on Nantucket Island, named by Library Journal as one of the Top 15 Indie Fiction titles of 2014. A native of the Washington DC area, John has an MFA from George Mason University and a PhD from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette (ULL). After graduating from ULL in 1997, he began teaching at the University of Central Arkansas (UCA), where he is a much loved professor of writing. His fiction has been published in many leading journals, as well as several anthologies, including Chick for a Day and The Best of The First Line.