In this, the fourth novel in his Lampitt Papers series, Wilson -- noted for his biographies of Jesus and C.S. Lewis -- continues to whip up a strange, circumscribed brew that is part murder mystery, part religious theoretical dialogue (pitting Catholicism against Protestantism), part meditation on art and literature, as well as part tedious, labyrinthine saga of several upper-class British families.
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
"A.N. Wilson is a member of that vanishing species, the Englishman of letters: urbane, ironic, fluent, felicitously the erudite and, above all, peasureably readable." -- The New York Times