Hearing Voices Essay - Critical Essays

Hearing Voices

A. N. Wilson is a prolific novelist and biographer. In addition to the Lampitt saga, he has published eleven other works of fiction and seven biographies, including lives of C. S. Lewis and Jesus. Wilson’s concern with Catholic issues is pronounced in nearly all of his writing. The title of his latest novel may be a sly reference to both religion and biography, for both the biographer and the believer claim, in some sense, to hear voices. The trouble is, of course, whether or not the voices are genuine. Fallible, sinful human beings can see only part of the truth.

The novel’s narrator, Julian Ramsey, is a biographer of the Lampitt family. He comes to New York City to examine the Lampitt papers that have been sold to the American millionaire, Virgil D. Everett. This businessman has been evidently guided by another biographer, Raphael Hunter, who has made a career out of the Lampitts, even though the family shuns him. Julian Ramsey discovers that Hunter has made up much of the “evidence” in his biography of James “Jimbo” Petworth.

Before Julian can speak with Everett about his archive, he is called away to England to attend the funeral of his grandmother. Then his own personal crises get the better of him, Everett falls from the balcony of his penthouse, and Hunter publishes the second volume of his acclaimed biography. Ramsey speculates that Hunter has murdered Everett, who has found out that his papers are largely bogus.

The novel does not resolve all the mysteries. Ramsey has not written his own book, and he is still trying to fathom the true history of the Lampitts. What to believe—in both the biographical and religious sense—is really the subject of this novel.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XCII, February 15, 1996, p. 992.

Chicago Tribune. March 31, 1996, XIV, p. 6.

Kirkus Reviews. LXIII, December 15, 1995, p. 1729.

Library Journal. CXXI, February 15, 1996, p. 177.

The New York Times Book Review. CI, March 3, 1996, p. 30.

The Observer. December 24, 1995, p. 12.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLIII, January 8, 1996, p. 58.

The Spectator. CCLXXV, November 11, 1995, p. 47.

The Times Literary Supplement. November 10, 1995, p. 23.