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  1. Incline Our Hearts by A.N. Wilson
  3. The Lampitt Papers
  4. A. N. Wilson

Oxford, Oxford University Press, London, Collins, and New York, Harper, Lewis , controversial accounts of Jesus and St.

Incline Our Hearts by A.N. Wilson

Paul , studies of religion, and many polemical articles. As a novelist, his territory is a familiar one in British fiction; the world of the English middle and upper middle classes, as represented primarily by Oxbridge graduates, London intellectuals, and Anglican clergymen.

To some extent, his technique resembles the satire and black comedy of Evelyn Waugh and Ronald Firbank but he is generally a gentler, more affectionate writer with a capacity to evoke both love and, in his later work, the depths of despair. By his own account, he is a one-draft writer, who does not spend time revising; and this sometimes shows in the prose of his fiction; but he nonetheless has the ability to bring scenes and characters vividly and economically before the reader and he can be very funny; as some of his nonfiction books might suggest, however, he is also concerned to explore in his novels serious ethical and theological issues.

His first novel, The Sweets of Pimlico , is a comic and touching debut that traces the relationship between Evelyn Tradescant, a young upper middle-class Cambridge graduate teaching in London, and the elderly and enigmatic Baron Theo Gormann. It was followed by Unguarded Hours and Kindly Light , highly entertaining comedies that recount the embarrassments and exploits of Norman Shotover, a shy, awkward Cambridge graduate who becomes an Anglican priest, gets mixed up with lots of girls, jumps off a cathedral tower with a hang glider , joins the CIA — the Catholic Institute of Alfonso — and plunges into a host of other improbable roles.

Though relatively lightweight, Wilson's second and third novels do raise questions about the nature of modern religious institutions. The vein of comic satire is mined more substantially in Who Was Oswald Fish? Deeper emotional depths are sounded in The Healing Art and Wise Virgin; The Healing Art presents alternating narratives of two women whose X-rays have been confused at a cancer clinic, so that one of them, Pamela, believes, mistakenly, that she has but a short time to live, and the other, Dorothy, believes, again incorrectly, that she is cancer-free.

Pamela, her mind concentrated by the prospect of imminent death, seeks to behave less selfishly and to develop the sort of kindness that comes more readily to Dorothy.

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Wise Virgin explores the relationship between a medieval scholar, nearing fifty, who has lost his sight, his young female research assistant who wants to marry him, and his daughter, who is herself discovering the possibilities of love. Both these novels demonstrate Wilson's capacity to combine comedy, bleakness, and tenderness in a potent and moving mixture. Scandal is coarser black comedy, focusing on a prostitute, Bernadette Woolley, and an ambitious politician, Derek Blore, who considers treason and murder in order to save himself from damaging revelations about his masochistic indulgences.

But Wilson's excursions into London lowlife in this novel are unconvincing; in particular, he is unable to find an appropriate tone for the portrayal of Bernadette and his representation of her becomes rather heartless and caricatural.


Gentlemen in England is an indulgent but enjoyable voyage back to the Victorian era to explore generational conflicts as the cosmopolitan Marvo Chatterway disrupts the Nettleship family, and its younger members are drawn to the religion of art and to apocalyptic Christianity. Wilson returns to the modern comedy of manners with Love Unknown , which follows the fortunes of three women, Monica, Belinda, and Richeldis, who, twenty years before, shared a London flat, went their separate ways, and now find that their different lives are not wholly satisfactory.

Wilson's next novel broke down the barrier between his adult and children's writing: Stray is the vividly written autobiography of Pufftail, an alley cat, and it can be read with pleasure by all ages. It was followed by the ambitious work The Vicar of Sorrows , in which a clergyman who has lost his faith and his love for his wife finds himself engulfed by crisis after his mother dies and he falls for a New Age traveler.

The Lampitt Papers

Comedy here is combined with somber renderings of emotional and spiritual distress that show Wilson moving further into the dark territory he had begun to explore in The Healing Art and Wise Virgin. The novel that appeared after The Vicar of Sorrows is perhaps his most powerful and disturbing to date: Dream Children takes up the theme of pedophilia in its account of the sexual relationship between Oliver Gold, an admired philosopher who has not realized his potential for greatness, and Bobs, a sensitive, affectionate prepubertal girl.

The novel is daring in the way it evokes sympathy for Oliver even as it demonstrates the appalling nature of child abuse. The narrator of the quintet is the orphan Julian Ramsay, who grows up in a Norfolk vicarage, goes through prep school, public school , National Service, and eventually becomes an actor.

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The novels turn on Ramsay's quest for the truth about the life and death of the Edwardian writer, James Petworth Lampitt, and on the way in which the same facts may be differently interpreted — concerns that link up with Wilson's own biographical writing. The sequence moves through a range of settings in London, New York, Italy and Venice , covers a time-span that stretches from the s to early in the twenty-first century, and deploys a considerable variety of characters, some of whom are thinly disguised versions of actual people. It has been compared to Anthony Powell 's twelve-novel sequence, A Dance to the Music of Time , but this comparison is exaggerated; in contrast to Powell, we hear too much of the narrator's voice and other potentially significant characters are not given space to develop.

Nonetheless, the series is admirably ambitious and richly interesting. Wilson has now produced a substantial body of fiction. His gift for comedy ensures that his novels are consistently entertaining; but as his career has progressed, he has also shown a capacity to develop his range, to tackle large and serious themes, and to respond to contemporary social concerns, despite his initial reputation as a "young fogey" opposed to modern attitudes.

Although he enjoys a high reputation as a biographer, Wilson feels that fiction can present truths that elude biography and history; and his novels can be seen to constitute an engaging and insightful exploration of the nature of middle and upper middle-class British identity as it encounters the complex pressures of the later twentieth century. As an actor he is ignominiously typecast because of his posh accent in the radio serial The Mulberrys obviously related to The Archers , of which A.

A. N. Wilson

Wilson is a confessed fan. And his initially passionate marriage to one of the inescapable Lampitt dynasty collapses into estrangement and recrimination. He feels properly ashamed of the pain he caused then, and tells us that avoiding it has become a preoccupation now. Nevertheless, behind his self-castigation a certain complacency seems to lurk.

In this novel Hunter functions not only as a rival in love, as he did before, but also as a literary alter ego. His Lampitt book has launched him on a successful career as an arts programme presenter and cultural middleman.

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Pirbright does nothing when he gets home except produce canvases, often on religious themes and somewhere between Lowry and Stanley Spencer in manner — pictures now in national galleries and recognised as masterpieces. Hunter cannot be at ease with such simple and dedicated souls: like any biographer, he infers, implies shapes and gets it wrong.

Indeed a biographer telling the story of his own life, Julian suggests, would mislead since, in the absence of written evidence, he would have no access to the all-important inner world. Wilson is, of course, himself the author of several successful biographies, and — unless he is merely exploiting the fact — we may assume some self-doubt, or at least internal debate. As an independent character, however, Hunter is too obviously a shadow, too much a projection of such literary — as also, where Julian is concerned, of sexual — anxieties, to function very satisfactorily on his own account.

Fictional persons signed up for a series need to be resilient, and some of those carried forward from Incline our hearts are beginning to flag. In the end, it is an open question whether this sequence of novels, with all its formal problems and its inbuilt drift to the diffuse, is going to make the best use of A. Jem knows about culture and introduces Alice to The Magic Flute. Clarke rated it it was amazing Nov 30, Notcathy J rated it it was ok Jun 15, Anne Paton rated it really liked it Mar 03, Declan rated it really liked it Oct 04, David Egan rated it liked it May 06, Andrea Engle rated it really liked it Jul 10, Paul rated it liked it Jan 21, Shimberly rated it it was amazing Dec 21, Paul Vittay rated it really liked it Apr 17, Nigel Massey rated it liked it Jan 06, Martha rated it really liked it Apr 11, Angela rated it liked it Nov 04, Tim Bull rated it it was amazing Dec 06, Bill rated it really liked it Feb 15, Lelia rated it liked it Feb 10, MN rated it really liked it Sep 07, Vance rated it liked it May 13, Ron Jenkins rated it it was amazing Sep 02, Caroline rated it it was ok Dec 09, Tim rated it really liked it Jan 14, Jane rated it really liked it Aug 11, There are no discussion topics on this book yet.

About A. Andrew Norman Wilson is an English writer and newspaper columnist, known for his critical biographies, novels, works of popular history and religious views. Other books in the series. The Lampitt Chronicles 5 books. Books by A.

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