A wickedly savage satire on the morality of contemporary Britain, doing for today what Evelyn Waugh did for the thirties and Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities did for the eighties.
“Had Father Vivyan been killed by his own pride and fanaticism; by his belief that he could ‘save’ a dangerous and mentally unstable boy? Had he been killed by his own fanatical political posture, his alliance with those whom the rest of the world saw as terrorists?... Or had he been destroyed by the right wing press, and in particular by Lennox Mark, the proprietor of the Legion? Perhaps by a bit of all these things...”
“So it was that within minutes of Father Vivyan’s soul leaving his body and soaring to God alone knows where... The silence of that religious house was broken... They could hear the coarse accents of Lennie Mark shouting, ‘Don’t you realize — you CUNT — don’t you realize who I FUCKING am?’”
A.N. Wilson has written a savage satire on the morality of contemporary Britain — its press, its politics, its Church, its rich, its underclass. His London is a bleak, if occasionally hilarious, place: murderous, randy, money-obsessed and haunted by strange gods.
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A.N. Wilson was born in 1950. His novels include The Healing Art (Somerset Maugham Award), Wise Virgin (WH Smith Award). His study of the Victorian age, The Victorians, was published by Hutchinson in 2002 to massive critical acclaim.
From the Hardcover edition.
A.N. Wilson takes the title of his new novel from the Gospel story about a violently insane man who confronts Jesus on the shore of Galilee. "My name is Legion," he cries, "for we are many." Worried that Jesus is about to turn them out, the devils possessing the insane man ask to be transferred into a nearby herd of pigs. Jesus agrees, but the demonic swine immediately run off a cliff and drown.
Wilson, a prolific historian and novelist in England, alludes to that strange Gospel incident throughout this sprawling satire. British reviewers -- who have called the novel among the year's best and worst -- have largely focused on Wilson's witty attack on London journalists, but I'm not convinced that's the heart of the novel. Several voices emerge from these pages that don't cohere as you might expect.
The story revolves around "The Daily Legion," the lead newspaper of a corrupt media empire for which cynical journalists toil away, bitterly unhappy, ashamed of their work but addicted to easy money. Their publisher, Lennox Marks, is an omnivorous bully who caters to readers' racist fears and vulgar interests. Every day his pompous editorials nudge and kick the government toward policies that will profit the Legion empire.
As a journalist myself, I may be too worried that my pig is being drowned, but there's something a little dated and gratuitous about this assault on Fleet Street. Wilson never misses the mark, but journalism seems like such a worn punching bag nowadays and the newspaper industry is so beleaguered that he sounds at times as if he's railing against gramophone manufacturers or the abuses of ice merchants. That problem grows more acute throughout an extended and largely extraneous side story involving a conceptual artist who displays a live model sitting on a Plexiglas toilet. Lennox Marks's wife, a marvelously funny character who slips from whore to queen with a glance, insists that this excremental masterpiece will be the perfect ornament for their corporate headquarters. But first she must figure out what their young model should eat before the grand "opening."
Yes, it's outrageous and ridiculous, and it hits the vacuous artspeak right on, but after the profundity of "Piss Christ" and the photos of Robert Mapplethorpe's anus, what room have modern artists left for such satire? Even a writer as clever as Wilson sounds as though he's racing to make fun of yesterday's excesses.
But there are other voices here -- more interesting, though not so funny -- which hark back to much older issues raised by that anguished cry from a desperately ill man on the shores of Galilee. Lennox Marks is not merely a grotesque media magnate, a sort of Dickensian Rupert Murdoch; he's a deeply conflicted man, troubled by the persistence of his belief in God. That anxiety is aggravated by the appearance of Father Vivyan Chell, a randy old monk who's become a powerful spokesman for African liberation. As a young man, Marks was deeply moved by Father Vivyan's preaching, but he managed to smother his incipient moral sense, align himself profitably with a brutal African dictator, and build his Legion conglomerate. Now, Father Vivyan has returned to England to protest the government's support for the African tyrant who pays Marks's bills with laundered money, and Marks is in a panic to keep the spiritually powerful man away from him and his fragile empire.
Father Vivyan is ultimately no less conflicted than Marks. He's deeply ashamed of seducing so many women, but what's more disturbing is the theology of violence he has worked out as a humble servant to the Prince of Peace. Years of working with the most oppressed people have led him to atheism and a highly selective reading of the Gospels to justify acts of terrorism. "Those workers who had been killed would go straight to God," he thinks while considering one of the attacks he orchestrated against a copper mine. It's impossible to pin Wilson down in all this; he skewers the monk's theological expediency just as effectively as he exposes the political corruption that inspires such desperation.
Neither Lennox Marks nor Father Vivyan shows any mercy in pursuit of his competing goals, but they once shared a lover named Mercy (not the novel's subtlest symbol). She's a vivacious black woman who's not sure who fathered her schizophrenic son, Peter, the rock upon which this novel is built. Unfortunately, Peter's illness is far more advanced than his mother realizes: He speaks in a number of voices, lashes out in a series of grotesque murders, and threatens to move on to more apocalyptic acts. It's a testament to the multivalent nature of Wilson's talent that he can portray this frightening family so tenderly in a novel that usually flashes with steely wit.
When he finally begins to gather the plot's various lines, Wilson ties ancient dilemmas to strikingly modern concerns. Beneath the wicked satire of craven journalists, corrupt politicians and vacuous artists (demonic pigs all) run questions about God's existence, the responsibilities of a virtuous life and the morality of using violence against evil. Lennox Marks and Father Vivyan are sure they're right, except when they're not so sure. Peter's head is a mess of arguing personalities. And the readers of the daily rag are decent folks hungry for sordid tales of sex and violence. This cacophony of voices makes a haunting demonstration of the violently conflicted state of human nature. We're all legion, Wilson seems to cry, begging to be left alone, desperate to be rescued from ourselves.
Reviewed by Ron Charles
Copyright 2005, The Washington Post Co. All Rights Reserved.
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Book Description Book Condition: New. Depending on your location, this item may ship from the US or UK. Bookseller Inventory # 97800994579470000000
Book Description Cornerstone, United Kingdom, 2005. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. The Daily Legion is a tabloid that peddles celebrity gossip and denounces asylum seekers. However, its financial survival depends on the support of a brutal African government. Recklessly defending this corrupt dictatorship, the newspaper faces off against Father Vivyan Chell, an Anglican monk and missionary who is working to overthrow the corrupt regime. My Name Is Legion is a savage satire on the morality of contemporary Britain - its Press, its politics, its Church, its rich, its underclass. Wilson s London is a bleak, if occasionally hilarious, place: murderous, lustful, money-obsessed and haunted by strange gods. Bookseller Inventory # LVN9780099457947
Book Description Arrow Books Ltd, 2005. Paperback. Book Condition: Brand New. new ed edition. 512 pages. 7.80x5.12x1.26 inches. In Stock. Bookseller Inventory # __0099457946