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My Name Is Legion Hardcover – 1 Apr 2004

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Hutchinson; First Edition edition (1 April 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0091795354
  • ISBN-13: 978-0091795351
  • Product Dimensions: 16.6 x 4 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,657,060 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

A.N. Wilson was born in 1950 and educated at Rugby and New College, Oxford. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, he holds a prominent position in the world of literature and journalism. He is an award-winning biographer and a celebrated novelist, winning prizes for much of his work. He lives in North London.

Product Description

Amazon Review

The "God question" remains a thorny one for the leading protagonists of My Name is Legion, AN Wilson's impressive Waugh-esque satire of the Fourth Estate. Previously, God's Funeral surveyed what Wilson referred to as the "collective nervous breakdown" that occurred in the Victorian era. God was dead and we, with our new fangled rationalism, had killed him, to paraphrase Nietzsche. The title, from Mark's gospel, provides the name of the newspaper at the centre of the novel, The Legion, (an evil rag that peddles celebrity tittle-tattle and denounces asylum-seekers and "Belgian bureaucrats" for "tampering with the good British Banana") but it also alludes to one of the characters, Peter/Tuli, an unbalanced south-London teenager troubled by voices (if not actually devils).

Matters of faith are central to The Legion's grotesquely immoral African proprietor, Lennox Mark. The newspaper man wants to be rid of his belief in God and his nemesis, Father Vyvian Chell, a troublesome priest, who is campaigning, in the military sense of the word, for the overthrow of a corrupt regime that keeps Mark's business empire afloat. (General Bindiga of Mark's native Zinariya--whom Chell schooled and once supported--is always assured a good press in The Legion.) Both men (Chell and Mark), not incidentally, since this is a richly plotted novel, could be Peter's father--his mother Mercy doesn't know for sure.

Wilson is a former literary editor for the Evening Standard and this novel is something of a Roman à clef, or as he's still a columnist with that newspaper, possibly, a 500-odd page resignation letter. The vipers pit that is Fleet Street (or more precisely in the book, Bermondsey) is unflinchingly portrayed--from the machinations of the owner, his wife and her lesbian lover, right down to the familiar peccadilloes of hacks and the obligatory unrequited office romance: Sinclo's puppyish infatuation with his arts editor colleague Rachel. Comparisons with Scoop are inevitable, perhaps even invited--LP Watson, the paper's jaded, adulterous and utterly corrupted columnist is a former travel writer and poet whose book Amazonians, an account of a South American canoe journey, sounds not far off John Boot's Waste of Time. (And is the use of those initials intended to ring a few alarm bells too?) But Wilson's it's-all-gone-to-hell-in-a-handcart vision of the media and Britain, "governed" here by a God-bothering, honours-dispensing Prime Minister with estuary diction, is Amisian (Kingsley rather than Martin) in its withering despair. And, arguably, the novel is all the more engaging for it, but there are moments when it its sentiments appear to veer towards the very why-oh-why journalism it wants to mock. --Travis Elborough


"I loved it" -- Philip Hensher, The Spectator

'He grapples with the concerns both of the heart and the intellect and it is grippingly readable’ -- Times Literary Supplement

‘A big, broad, sweeping book, as disturbing as it is funny.' -- Guardian

‘A wonderful, thrilling depiction of media manipulation, corruption, tolerance and promiscuity. It’s so good, and so wise, it hurts' -- Frances Fyfield, The Week

‘Brilliantly inventive… A disturbing and highly original novel’ -- Stephen Glover, Daily Mail

‘Dickensian in scope, packed with perversity, filth and gutter lowlife. Its melodrama never fails to entertain’ -- Books of the Year, Daily Telegraph

‘Splendid and thoroughly enjoyable…Very funny and deeply serious at the same time’ -- The Scotsman

‘Terrifyingly funny’ -- Sean French, Independent

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Lethiavan on 21 Feb. 2012
Format: Paperback
Lucy Austen is entirely justified in her irritation with the grotesque characters and blind-alley roman a clef connotations of this book. In places the writing is unbelievably bad, and could easily have been saved by the services of a competent editor, e.g. on page 317 - "while he chewed the crisp fat of the lamb cutlet with his fingers". Why not use his teeth, like everybody else? And on page 339, you cannot see at first glance where one list ends and another begins - "By the time Vivyan had finished showing her round the house, the church, the garden, the watch had disappeared."

The "hinge" comes on page 300, in a funeral oration. All that follows is a working-out of all that went before. This working-out is reasonably neat but ultimately unaffecting, partly because it is impossible to care sufficiently deeply about any of the characters, and partly because the plot is driven by a series of unlikely and unbelievable coincidences. There are loose ends left hanging, although no reader is likely to be concerned to have them followed up. At one point someone we have never heard of before is connected with a crime he did not commit, on the basis of DNA evidence. We never find out the explanation. This is subtlety taken too far, particularly as DNA evidence could have solved at a stroke the central conundrum of the plot, but is conveniently forgotten in that context. Similarly, it is a matter of indifference to me (and I suspect to most readers) whether the materialist and philistine newspaper proprietor eventually repents his sins. And if he has repented, why does he still eat continuously and shout obscenities? No reader will care.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Lucy Austen on 30 Jun. 2004
Format: Hardcover
Dear oh dear - or should that be why oh why? What has happened to A.N. Wilson, the elegant author of those soul-searching Lampitt novels? This new novel is so poisonous, you can almost feel it fizzing and hissing in your hands. The reader requires a very strong stomach to tackle this book. Every scatological reference the smutty minded adolescent's imagination can conjure up is here. There were pages I had to skip because I began to feel a bit queasy. Had I been sensible I would have skipped the entire book, but I was seduced by the good reviews. I kept thinking it was going to get better in a minute. It didn't. It got steadily worse. I had forgotten that good reviews have nothing to do with the book and everything to do with the conviviality of a long lunch with the reviewer.
The book is about an evil newspaper owner, Lennox Mark, who tries to destroy the life of a holy monk. From chapter one, the plot plunges into silliness and is never rescued. Just to give you a taste, the story opens with a young mugger who has just half-murdered a boy, breaking into the house of a rich woman. When he tries to attack the woman, she takes him up into her bathroom, whips out a slave collar that she just happens to have lying around, puts it round the mugger's neck, and orders him to clean her house. He obediently does so, and she offers him a permanent job as house-boy. Yeah, right.
Plot aside, the novel's main problem is that all the characters are completely divorced from humanity. None of the people come to life so there is no emotional force to engage our interest. The monstrous Lennox Mark, the grotesque Mary Much, the Saintly Rachel Pearl et al, are one dimensional cartoons. As an admirer of Wilson's early novels, I was surprised to see how sloppy and slangy his writing has become. I think this book was meant to expose the sorry state of the nation. All Wilson succeeds in exposing is the futility of his latest foray into fiction.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Maddened among the Gadarene swine, in modern London 30 Nov. 2008
By John L Murphy - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Wilson, a biographer of Jesus and Paul, an historian of the Victorians and the loss of faith in God, and a veteran novelist, is also a journalist. His authorial breadth serves him and the reader well in this sprawling blend of social commentary, Fleet Street satire, and theologically tinged thriller set in today's London. Imagine Evelyn Waugh's "Scoop" updated to a stand-in for Robert Mugabe, insert Lugardia for Rhodesia and Zinariya for Zimbabwe, and place as the protagonist a British colonial, first a soldier there, then a celebrity monk preaching liberation theology against General Bendiga's corrupt regime. The regime, supported by and supporting Lennox Marx's "red-top" tabloid "The Daily Legion," finds itself clashing by a psychomachia within a teenager who carries many secrets and scandals inside his fevered consciousness. We hear the multiple personas of a teenaged boy, Peter, who takes on the fearsome voices of one possessed, perhaps by demons as much as by schizophrenia. He's a modern version of the man who lived among the tombs that was cured by Jesus, who drove out the devils into the Gadarene swine in that eerie Gospel episode.

It's an ambitious novel. The fates of a few characters, such as blackmailed Ed Hartley, the conceptual artist Hans Busch, or counselor Kevin Currey, appear too muddled. This may be intentional, to show the cruelty of their predicaments, but I wondered what roles they served; the Happy Band's ultimate goals also remained shadowed. Still, these are minor shortcomings that do not detract much from the cumulative interest that accrues as, once you're into the novel a couple of hundred of its five-hundred pages, the novel begins linking its many subplots.

Wilson, better than Nicola Barker's experimental novel "Darklands" (also reviewed by me here and on Amazon US recently), evokes how many characters inhabit a young man's mind. In demon-haunted Peter, we hear an array of stock figures from stereotypical England, stolid then and multicultural now. Wilson wittily, but with compassion and justice, enters Peter and many other figures with intelligence, energy, and tact. This novel, although about sensationalism, by its balance of tell-all gossip and elegant restraint, manages to convince you of the reality of even the exaggerated figures he-- especially at the "Legion"-- delights in parading.

The novel captures a grimy, rainy, weary capital, especially its southern bank and inner suburban districts, those less chronicled. The chav, the Coldstream Guard, the campaigning padre, the frightened child, the Bahamian immigrant, the social climbing Eurotrash, the careful spy, the frustrated mistress, the overeducated scribbler, the sashaying hack: all sound as they should.

The city, too, enters, seen from a decaying urban park: "From afar, beyond the neglected graves of ten thousand south Londoners," Catford's "high-rise blocks" and Bromley's "endless streets" sulk. "Today they suggested a limitless waste of life, a humanity which stretched sadly as far as the eye could see, indulging in its youth in the activities which so obsessed the graffiti-artists in the bandstand; scurrying, in middle age, to the bus stops and railway stations which, even in the heavy rain, the eye could discern, to go to work in London, to pay for the mean residences which stretched in endless terraces; lying, eventually, in the cemetery whose identical headstones made their cruel commentary on the rows of houses of those who were buried there." (360)

God seems absent from here, often if not always. Wilson gives Father Chell two magnificent sermons, one a rant on liberation theology, one a eulogy about the death of the "God of the Philosophers" on Calvary replaced by a post-resurrection deity who "had looked very much like the gardener sweeping the path" in the Garden. (300) Father Chell speculates later about the departure of God from humanity as symbolized by the Ascension-- the human construct rises into the sky that we populate with gods. Meanwhile, in the city where some still pray, the voles and dogs and cats "breathed and moved and fed without the need to project their mentalities into the indifferent surroundings, or to look for personality in the vast impersonal processes of the natural world." (426)

Wilson's omniscient narrator holds back, rarely directly editorializing, but when the craft justifies such an entrance, the effect's moving. While not a showy writer, Wilson takes care on every page. In the indirect first-person voice that eases in and out of his main characters, he makes comparisons to Bonhoeffer, Homer, Marx, Dostoevsky, Christ, or Shakespeare that reflect the level of a character's own knowledge. One journalist, having compromised on early promise for a steady income: "Now he sounded like a man who was so used to mixing with, and writing for, people stupider than himself that he was in a world where just to know the names of great writers was something for which you expected applause." (214)

Such allusions, occasionally deployed, work well. "On the TV news, when the idiocy or wickedness of politicians had forced another great section of humanity into a position where home was a place of dread, one saw them queuing at borders, streaming down dusty roads or railway tracks, many an Aeneas with old Anchises on his shoulders, refugees, old women bundled in prams, fly-blown babies. And always such bedraggled figures in flight had grabbed, quite arbitrarily perhaps, their 'things'. But why in such circumstances of despair had they bothered to take anything at all, unless that was merely clutching at an object, as a child clutched a comfort-blanket, offered in inconsolable circumstances a faint alternative to consolation?" (295)

England here has little pride left. The parks once meant for adults now find their cafeterias, playgrounds, and benches coated with trash and scrawls. "The Queen, no longer a radiant young woman, now looked like an old frump made out of pastry, grumpy and about to crack into floury powder." (476) The ceremony of welcoming Lennox Marks as a Lord shows to such as Chell how primitive, beneath the Americanized fast-food, muggings, petty crime, and fumes and endless swearing of a dumbed-down populace, ritual endures in "the tribal hierarchy which still persisted here. This man, for all his dependence on modern techniques of communications to make his millions, on plate-glass towers and computerized newspaper production, wanted nothing more than to drape himself with dead animal skins and, mumbling imprecations to the spirits, make obesiance to his tribal chieftains." (490)

The loss of national will-- as a Brigadier explains with the IRA battling for a compromise so as to make the Ulster statelet "seem implausible," and so come to power-- dominates a cowed yet cock-headed Britain. Wilson may find hope in a few individuals that as always refuse to serve their prostituted masters. But, these by the end of this story seem few. The position of the kingdom, dependent on oppression to keep its post-colonial power, manacled to capitalism that presents both the only workable situation at present and the method by which billions suffer to serve a billion, deepens the ideas that the characters fumble with, as journalists, readers, and perpetrators in a society with little belief and lots of junk. Wilson reports in an often much funnier (if rather scattershot in its many easy if deserving targets!) prose than my serious excerpts may have indicated, but his moral analysis can be scathing.
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