Readers who treasure Evelyn Waugh’s nasty 1938 comic masterpiece Scoop (and we are legion) will rejoice to find it reborn in the tireless British author’s saber-toothed 18th novel.
A superbly sleazy Fleet Street rag, The Legion—surely inspired by Waugh’s Daily Beast—wages war on truth, justice and its publisher Lennox “Lennie” Mark’s many, many enemies. Chief among them is former army officer turned radical Anglican priest Vivyan Chell, from whose deathbed the tale of The Legion’scrimes and its minions’ messily intertwined lives begins to unfold. Father Vivyan’s adventures in political sabotage have undermined the misrule of moribund African nation Zariya’s thuggish General Bindinga—the ill-gotten gains from whose atrocities provide The Legion’s primary financial support. Variously involved co-conspirators and observers include failed poet and all-purpose columnist L.P. Watson (certainly we may be forgiven for detecting just a hint of A.N. Wilson in him); his gossipy confidante, Mary Mulch, editor of the superslick Gloss; still-idealistic arts editor Rachel Pearl and the several males (including L.P.) who admire her journalistic and other chops; Lennie Mark’s bisexual Euro-trash wife Martina (a wonderful caricature: too bad the middle-aged Lotte Lenya isn’t around to portray her); West Indian beauty Mercy d’Abo, and her emotionally disturbed biracial bastard teenaged son Peter, whose schizophrenic outbursts have much to do with this busy story’s precipitous pitch forward into hell. My Name is Legion (whose wry title nicely suggests its satanic content) is an all-out, take-no-prisoners encyclopedic satire, which may push rather more buttons than it needs to (even the Queen takes her lumps, in a memorably snotty aside). But it plays fair, finding genuine heroism in those (notably Father Chell) who oppose The Legion’s reductive trashings and otherwise subtly celebrating the political, religious and artistic standards from which it has so egregiously fallen.
Malicious fun, with a very keen edge. Wilson’s most abrasively entertaining yet.