Hearing Voicesby A. N. Wilson
In this delightful novel, both mystery and comedy of manners, A. N. Wilsoncontinues the strange tale of Julian Ramsay, chronicler of that distinguished literary family, the Lampitts. The story opens in the mid-1960s on a note of gruesome drama, as the fabulously wealthy Virgil D. Everett, Jr., is pushed to his death from a Manhattan skyscraper. Does Everett's murder have anything to do with his ownership of the manuscripts known as the Lampitt Papers? Over thirty years later, actor and Lampitt biographer Julian Ramsay finds himself in New York with his "One Man Show" about James Lampitt's life and experiences. Ramsay's recollections take us on a fascinating journey back to the late 1960s, encompassing America, England, and Italy at a time of groundbreaking scientific research and intense theological debate. It is a journey that may reveal the secret to Everett's death and, ultimately, the true content of the Lampitt Papers. This witty and insightful drama will enchant readers already familiar with the Lampitt family, and it is a richly rewarding novel in its own right.
The story begins in the voice of the now elderly Julian Ramsey, a mousy British stage actor who is visiting New York City in the year 2000 for his one-man show portraying the life of one Lord Lampitt. Lampitt, a minor Edwardian literary figure, was made controversial by a biography claiming that he was homosexual (proof of this is only to be found in the Lampitt Papers, a collection of personal letters which disappeared upon the mysterious murder of their owner, a detested American millionaire). Yet most of the novel takes place in third-person flashback to Ramsey's life in the late 1960's. Many promising events -- his falling in love with his fiancée's sister, unwittingly taking LSD at a downtown Manhattan party and an episode of temporary insanity -- come across as distant and bland, thanks mostly to Wilson's unassailably intelligent, but essay-like, prose. "We are all hearing voices -- when we wake and dream," Ramsey drones, "but only the artist makes hearing voices his way of life."
Even more problematic, Hearing Voices refers so incessantly to the goings-on in previous Lampitt Papers books that it barely stands as a self-contained novel. The over 50 entries in the glossary, "A List of Characters Mentioned in the Story," might have been helpful if even a handful of these characters were sufficiently developed in the present narrative. Instead, most make split-second appearances (usually in the form of Ramsey's melancholic, Proustian flashbacks) and are gone. To readers new to the series, the book might resemble the literary equivalent of a stuffy cocktail party where mildly interesting bon mots and dry stories about people one has never heard of dissolve from memory as quickly as they are uttered. Even Lampitt Papers fans will be disappointed by the predictable, murder mystery finale. --Salon
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews