Robert Irwin: Satan Wants Me
Satan Wants Me was first published in 1999, to largely positive reviews. Scotland on Sunday described it as “The Devil Rides Out cross-cut with Performance” which raises false expectations of supernatural shenanigans and trippy gangland juju. There’s shades of that, but the tone is more Peter Cook than Dennis Wheatley, and our narrator is not a Druid-despising occult investigator but a student called Peter, caught up in the mayhem of London in 1967. This was the ‘Summer of Love’, when Brian Jones was still alive, Hendrix’s star was in the ascendant and there were strange vibes lysergically leaking out into the streets. Irwin experienced all of this first hand, and those experiences inform the novel, as Peter gradually gets in over his head with some dubious practitioners of black magic and the general tone of mockery takes an inevitably darker turn. This acknowledgement that the ‘the abyss gazes also into you’ gives the novel a heft it would otherwise be lacking, reducing it to something closer to the ‘Adrian Mole on acid’ that the New Statesman described it as. It is very funny though and Irwin has a gift for consistently undermining the grim seriousness of diabolical dabblings, either through Peter’s own observations (“If Satanism really works, why is Dr Felton old, fat and living in Swiss Cottage?”) or the utterances of Peter’s friend and fellow astral traveller ‘Mr Cosmic’: “Unnatural sex is customarily used to generate occult energies. You’ve read your Crowley… it is an integral part of making the dark forces work for you. After all the Prince of Darkness is himself a horny poove.” There’s been plenty of books written about this era, but Irwin’s novel captures something unique about how ordinary people – not rock musicians, not avant-garde film makers – were affected.