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
--This text refers to the
"Far and away the best novel of the year was A. N. Wilson's angry, passionate and spiritual onslaught on modern Mammon and the media... which should have won the Man Booker prize, but typically was not shortlisted" (Hugh Massingberd Spectator
"A wonderful, thrilling depiction of media manipulation, corruption, tolerance and promiscuity. It's so good, and so wise, it hurts. It's the late-20th century in a gulp" (Frances Fyfield The Week
"A real rattler of an entertainment" (Philip Hensher Spectator
"Blisteringly funny... My Name Is Legion
is not one of those soft-centred satires that ducks the issue. It throws down the gauntlet to Fleet Street and asks some tough questions of the newspapers we read" (David Robson Sunday Telegraph
"My Name Is Legion
weaves a compelling modern morality tale of crime and punishment that links the world of the rich and powerful to that of the poor and dispossessed... All of this is highly enjoyable, and kept going with an irresistibly waspish verve" (Amanda Craig Independent on Sunday