HUTCHINSON £16.99 (£15.99 (P&P FREE) 08700 798 897)

My Name is Legion by A N Wilson

A descent into tabloid hell

Where are the libel writs? A N Wilson's eighteenth novel, My Name is Legion, is an attack on the tabloid press - something that you might think otiose to satirise - and features a number of characters who have been fingered as real-life journalists. Having myself experienced a most unpleasant time at the hands of various male hacks over the publication of A Vicious Circle, I have been waiting. And waiting.

Let other pens reflect on the intrinsic sexism of the British press; certainly this novel will do nothing to dispel it. Like Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities, and like the Victorian "baggy monsters" which clearly inspired both, My Name is Legion weaves a compelling modern morality tale of crime and punishment that links the world of the rich and powerful to that of the poor and dispossessed. A crazed black teenager, Peter, is told his father is Lennox Marks, the vulgar proprietor of The Legion, a newspaper where most of the cast, including his own mother Mercy, work or have worked. Attempting to rob Mark's wife Martina, Peter gets employed as her butler instead - other servants having fled the couple's squalid, imperious habits. Peter's other possible sire, Father Vivyan, a poor monk working in a grim area of South London, is also connected to Marks. Long ago, both were involved in an African country from which Marks's wealth derives. Marks, who sees Father Vivyan as his "guilty conscience", uses his newspaper to prop up a dictatorship even crueller than his own, and his paper libels the priest as a paedophile when he is in fact tormented by guilt over his affair with Peter's mother. The novel begins with Vivyan dying, having shot Peter, then traces how, by a process of ambition, distraction, uglification and derision this is orchestrated by a group of people bullied into writing what they know are lies for people they despise.

Wilson switches tone and style with manic confidence, moving from the mad Peter's multiple personality disorder to the brutal jokes and schemes of Martina Marks, and from elegant musings on the nature of faith to coarse comedy and melodrama. His imagination and indignation are fired by the tabloid world he knows and writes for as they are not by poor Afro-Caribbean families; one applauds the effort while remaining riveted to the depiction of a monstrous regiment of hacks. Those Wilson describes are almost all women, and lesbian to boot, from the proprietor's ferocious columnist wife, Mrs Marks, to the cross-dressing literary editor, Dot Saxby. There is also a "fallen archangel", who writes a "why oh why" column not dissimilar from Wilson's own, and a self-loathing ex-soldier, Sinclo, mooningly in love with the beautiful arts editor Rachel Pearl. The Markses's schemes against Vivyan are confounded by a terrorist campaign, but even bombs do less damage than malicious tabloid lies.

All of this is highly enjoyable, and kept going with an irresistibly waspish verve. Yet one wonders where the interest is for readers outside this tiny world. It made me sad - sad not for a fallen England as seen by Father Vivyan - but sad that Wilson's early, very real brilliance should have failed to blossom into something rich, humane and new. It would have been so much better a novel if, like Trollope, he had allowed his characters (Vivyan included) to be more than caricatures, but that would demand more distance from the world he describes, and more affection too. Satire demands not just savage indignation but a sort of love - a love that newspapers, which do after all publish the best of the best as well as the worst of the worst, still deserve.

Amanda Craig's novel, 'Love in Idleness', is published in paperback this month (Abacus)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions