Industry of Magic & Light by David Keenan - review by Sam Kitchener

Sam Kitchener

Set the Controls for the Heart of Airdrie

Industry of Magic & Light


White Rabbit Books 272pp £18.99

I remember taking a bus through Notting Hill with my father to visit my grandfather in hospital. Dad gestured out of the window at a shabby-looking building and told me that he’d invented ska music when living in a squat there: ‘I was laying down some of those beats ten years before they went mainstream.’ Later we went to a pub where he gave me his copy of The Tibetan Book of the Dead and told me that once when he was playing the bongos he’d seen the Devil. The setting of David Keenan’s fifth novel in five years is a fantasy version of the psychedelic music scene in Airdrie in the 1960s (‘which everyone knows lasted till about 1975’), rather than my Dad’s fantasy version of a west London in the mid-1970s where he discovered Two Tone. But if the specifics are different, the vibe is the same.

The Industry of Magic & Light are a group of local hippies who run a ‘psychedelic light show’. Alan Cardona, Teddy Ohm and Tobias Wright build a commune nicknamed Gethsemane on an allotment in the Lanarkshire village of Calderbank, where they’re joined by a motley collection of self-styled freethinkers. Fleur Mayberry is a performance artist who writes ‘endless sonnets to her vagina’. She pads around town without shoes and waits for a bus at the top of South Bridge Street in the lotus position. Cassieis a visual artist who grew up in a West Virginian commune run by Theosophists. Her first exhibition ‘was hosted in an abandoned shack high in the Appalachian Mountains where every window was framed as in a painting’.

Together these characters wage a ‘War on Reality’, seeking meaning beyond the ‘non-ecstatic consensus of desacralised suffering workaday reality’ by way of music, art, political protest, mysticism, esotericism, mind-altering substances and orgies. You might catch sight of the Devil while playing the bongos, or you might, like Cardona, start

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