A. N. Wilson may be England’s most prolific writer. He has written biographies of Jesus, the Saint Paul the Apostle, Leo Tolstoy, Hilaire Belloc, and the members of the British Royal Family. Recently he penned an unflattering portrait of the distinguished novelist Iris Murdoch. He is a novelist of distinction himself, beginning with scandalous comedies such as The Sweets of Pimlico (1977) and moving on to the five-novel Lampitt Chronicles and to the story of a pedophile, Dream Children (1998). The comic achievement of Incline Our Hearts (1988), first of the Lampitt novels, would by itself make him a major author and make any new novel of his an event.
My Name Is Legion is such an event. It is a long novel, telling an involved story that takes place in England, mainly in London, over a fairly short period of time. Flashbacks take the reader to Zinariga, an African country rich in copper, where the grandfather of Lennox (“Lennie”) Marks established copper mines. Lennie was born in Zinariga and as a boy fell under the spell of an Anglican monk, Father Vivyan Chell. Chell, an aristocrat, came to Zinariga as a military officer, was overwhelmed by a transient feeling of God’s presence, became a monk, and returned to Zinariga to do good. Under Father Vivyan, Lennie briefly became devoted to the good, but when he went to the United States for his education, he lost most of his ethical principles. He retains, however, a belief in God and a taste for theological disputes.
In the present, perhaps forty years later, one finds Lennie the owner and publisher of The Daily Legion, a powerful London tabloid newspaper. He enjoys his power and lusts after a peerage. Lennie’s wife is Martina, a former East German whore who keeps his conscience numbed. Martina’s best friend and occasional lover is Mary Much, and both women are columnists for The Daily Legion. Lennie’s publishing empire is supported by money from the Zinariga’s copper mines, now controlled by a boyhood friend who has become the country’s dictator, General Bindiga. In return for this support, The Daily Legion ignores Bindiga’s flagrant human rights abuses and backs him editorially.
Physically, both Lennie and his wife are nauseatingly unattractive. Lennie is short and very fat. He wolfs down huge quantities of caviar and lobster. His speech is larded with obscenities. Martina may appear sexy at a distance, but her face has been lifted so many times that she can scarcely smile.
Early in his life as a monk, Father Vivyan wrote a book that made him famous as a Christ-like figure. By the time the central action of My Name Is Legion begins, he has returned to England to take over a parish in the nastiest part of South LondonCrickledon. He has opened the vicarage to a mixed bag of unfortunatesasylum seekers from Eastern Europe, young criminals and terrorists, homeless men and women. He himself lives an austere life, counseling these people and saying Mass. He preaches against the rich and powerful practitioners of global industrial capitalism, Lennox Marks and General Bindiga in particular. His secret vice is lust for women.
Enter Peter d’Abo, a sixteen-year-old young man whose life will affect all the others in the novel. When Peter was born, his mother, Mercy, could not be sure who his father wasand her list of four possibilities included both Lennie and Father Vivyan. Peter assumes many names, and he has an even more complicated inner life. His brain contains many shifting voices: P. G. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster, a Coldstream Guards major, The Murderous Moron, and the wise Tuli (a gang leader). Not only do these characters talk to one another, but Peter often assumes their voices when he talks to other people. He is capable of nasty tricks and obscene and heartless violence. Mercy finally tells him that Lennie is his father.
The novel begins with a short, solemn preface describing the death of Father Vivyan; the reader thereby knows that the story will not end with his triumph. Lennie Marks arrives smelling of sausages but too late to see Father Vivyan alive. He punctuates the scene with jarring obscenities.
Then the story proper begins, perhaps a year before Father Vivyan’s death. Martina Mark is at her house in a fashionable part of London. The house is filthy because all of her servants left a week before; they could not stand her abusive behavior. She has sent out for food, but the delivery boy...
(The entire section is 1846 words.)