Wilson Plays Entomologist, Looks for God in All the Bristly Details


London journalism and spiritual life come drained of much good in My Name Is Legion, A.N. Wilson’s 18th work of fiction. The English novelist and historian brings together two opposing viewpoints in this long, ropy tale. One is the tabloid reek of The Daily Legion, a paper owned by Lennox Mark—an overweight mogul born in the former African colony Zinariya and now angling for a lordship—and his svelte German wife, the vile columnist Martina Fax. The second is the Christian contemplativeness of Father Vivyan Chell, an Anglican monk and former soldier Mark first met in Africa who has a significant history with women. Other characters abound, including Peter, a doomed young biracial schizophrenic; his well-meaning West Indian grandmother Lily; and trend expert Mary Much, Fax’s former lover and editor of Gloss magazine, who is said to be infested with “motiveless malignity.”

The book recalls such English fictions as Money, Martin Amis’s lowered-tone masterpiece, and The Sweet Smell of Psychosis, Will Self’s portrayal of hell inside a London slick, overlaid with the religious imperatives of Graham Greene. Wilson sees most of his characters the way Martin Scorsese saw the denizens of Las Vegas in Casino: as insect-like schemers. They inhabit an atmosphere where, as Much explains, “The old Legion readers looked up to Posh. . . . Now the tumbrils are rolling—not for political reasons, you understand, just spectator sport.” Accordingly, Wilson sketches these people as though they are the subjects of an evil cartoonist, noting the clawlike length of a polished fingernail, or the tendency to speak with a mouthful of food; with a few other characters he goes deeper. Such contrasts, in addition to Wilson’s exaggerated array of elevated and debased moods, constantly refresh his narrative, which is about pursuing serenity somewhere it’s been shrewdly banished.