Thursday, July 23, 2015


I wanted to like this novel a lot more than I did.  It was written by A.N. Wilson who is a very good writer and it was about the Christian religion, which is a topic that interests me.  But Wilson's I Am Legion published in 2004 just fell flat, and frankly, wasn't very good.

Some reviewers description on Amazon that influenced me to purchase a copy of the novel said that one of the main characters of the novel, Father Vivyan Chell, was a thinly disguised Thomas Merton. I confess that I don't see it.  About the only thing that Vivyan Chell and Thomas Merton have in common in that they are both priests and they both have trouble maintaining their vow of celibacy.

Father Vivyan Chell is a former British Army Officer who has joined an Anglican religious order and become a priest.  For many years, he has been running a mission in a fictional African country called Zinariya.  As a teenager, Lennox Mark comes to Father Vivyan's mission and is struck by his holiness and his work with the poor.

Lennox comes very near to dedicating his life to Christ and staying with the mission, but after living with the monks for several months, he goes back to his life of wealth and privilege.  When the novel opens, Lennox Mark is an overweight, middle aged millionaire who owns a muck racking tabloid newspaper called The Daily Legion.

One of Father Vivyan's former students in Zinariya, whom he had great hopes for, has become the dictator of Zinariya.  Like every other character in this novel, General Bindiga is little more than a caricature (think Idi Amin).

Turns out that Father Vivyan is not nearly as holy as everybody thinks he is.  For years he has been living in sin with a series of African women.  Finally, out of guilt he comes home to England and is put in charge of a slum parish which he opens up to the poor and destitute.  Once again, his libido gets the best of him and he has affairs with a series of women.

Author A.N. Wilson with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams

One of the women Father Vivyan has sex with is Mercy Topling, who is a 2nd generation immigrant from Jamaica.  Mercy also once worked as Lennox Mark's secretary and also has a short affair with him.   When Mercy becomes pregnant she is not sure who the father is.  Mercy gives birth to Peter.

Peter, it turns out, has split personality disorder which gets worse as he gets older.  Peter's split personalities run the gamut from a highly intellectual English butler all the way to a retarded homicidal maniac.   It turns out that Peter has been sexually molested by his school counselor, which only makes his mental imbalance worse.

A.N. Wilson with his daughter

Lennox Mark is married to Martina, a former East German prostitute.  Martina's mother, who apparently is trotted out at dinner parties to scare the guests, is horribly disfigured having been shot in the face by East German border guards while escaping from the Iron Curtain.  Martina has only married Lennox for his money and influence and has had a long standing lesbian relationship with Mary Much, another former prostitute who is now a columnist for The Daily Legion.  When Peter, looking for his father, who Mercy has told him is Lennox Mark even though she thinks his father is really Father Vivyan, comes to the Mark's house and murders a delivery boy, Martina and Mary hide him out and make him the chief butler.  Martina  and Mary find Peter very attractive and it is strongly hinted that they begin a sexual relationship with him.

If this description sounds like this novel is a muddled mess, that just about describes it.  The convoluted plot also involves an artist supported by Martina and Mary who's new performance art is a glass toilet which is to be installed in the foyer of the The Daily Legion and which the artist himself will sit upon and take a crap, but is blown up by terrorists led by Father Vivyan who are rebelling against the British support for General Bindiga.

A.N. Wilson enjoys a libation

I have the overwhelming feeling that the hours I spent reading this thing could have been better spent doing something else, like watching re-runs of Gilligan's Island.   Wilson tries to make this mess a serious novel by discussing serious issues, like the existence of God and the nature of faith, but it just doesn't work.

Obviously, the title is taken from the demoniac in the Gospel of Mark, where the man possessed by demons tells Jesus "My name is Legion: for we are many." (Mark 5:9).  The demon possession theme is not only the boy with the split personalities but also the Fleet Street rag that prints lies and half-truths to sell newspapers.

Over all, although I generally admire A.N. Wilson's work, this just falls flat.  Two out of Five.

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