The prequel to Keenan’s debut Airdrie-based novel, This is Memorial Device, Industry of Magic & Light brings us back to the same place – Airdrie in the 1960s and early 70s – and consists of two parts. Firstly, we are given an inventory of the items strewn around a hippy caravan, and the anecdotes that relate to these items. Secondly, we are then given more of a conventional narrative, told through a tarot reading via characters Adam and Suzy: none of which is the standard third person convention with an arc and clear structure, I may add. Industry of Magic & Light is kept to a similar stream of consciousness style as that of Keenan’s earlier work, but lures us into the surreal and surreptitious world of Airdrie. Aside from Keenan’s work, it’s not often we hear about Airdrie in fiction.
The novel focuses on a group of hippies (it is the Sixties) running their own psychedelic light show. As mentioned, it’s told in two halves, the first being in the form of an inventory of the contents of a caravan abandoned by one of the hippies and the second in the form of a tarot reading. As I said, it has an unconventional structure, and if you feel you get the full telling of a story here, I would be very surprised. It’s more a novel that directly channels Airdrie’s 1960s, a love letter to the optimistic possibilities of that decade, even in small dreary Scottish towns. There is a heightened utopia on display for all to read here, as we hear about many improbabilities for Airdrie in the 60s. But equally, why couldn’t the young people of this town be open to the same possibilities as the rest of those who experienced the psyche moments of the decade?
The inventory covers everything from poetry chapbooks, record reviews, bicycle repair kits, opened Vosene bottles, and mysterious cassette recordings, giving us a flavour of the times before we are taken to Afghanistan and Berlin. Keenan certainly knows how to transform Airdrie into a psychedelic utopia, heightening our senses for the tale, and opening our minds to the pushed boundaries of this novel. Magic and Light seem to be at the forefront of Airdrie for these young hippies, and Keenan squashes any preconceptions of the lives we bear witness to in this small Scottish town.
Industry of Magic & Light is out on 25th August 2022, published by White Rabbit Books