Review of The Satanist by James Mclachlan

The author James Mclachlan is from Tasmania, Australia. He has a degree in English and History, but has also studied graphic design, computing, audio engineering and librarianship. He has been writing most of his life, predominantly in goth zines. He has also edited several fanzines in collaboration with Tasmanian artist Bill Dean, including The Fall of Because and …And Other Stories.
James’ first novel The Kingdom of Dank remains unpublished. The Satanist is his first published novel, and he is currently working on another called Burnie to Northcote on five Billion a Day.
Angus, the eponymous Satanist of this new novel by James Mclachlan, is a much put-upon and exploited character – besides being cheated on, walked out on and generally thrown in to confusion by two consecutives girlfriends and his mother, his friends at the Melbourne chapter of The Church of Satan are hell-bent on driving him and themselves to distraction (if not destruction) in a series of locations across Australia. Remarkably, Angus remains an engaging and likeable character, even if at the start of the book he has a toxic lack of self-esteem, views most people as mindless “herd” and would rather watch re-runs of The Avengers than engage in meaningful social contact with his peers or family; by the end of the book he has grown and developed, he has not only saved the lives of a whole stadium-full of pappy-pop-fans, he has come to terms with the infidelities of his first girlfriend, fallen in love and settled down with his second girlfriend,  made contact with and connected with his estranged father, caught up with his old mates in Tasmania and put a viper’s nest of literally homicidal evangelical bible-bashers in jail. So I guess he turned out alright in the end.
In many ways the Satanists – Angus, Sim, Dim, Jerald and the two naked girls watching Hammer Horror films from under the blanket (don’t ask!) – are by far the most honourable and admirable characters in this novel. They certainly stand up well beside the Christians they are battling with, a murderous, cowardly, superstitious, psychotic bunch whose constant justifications for their atrocities “(we are) to deliver God’s judgement” “it is the Lord’s will” and “The Lord God is working through me” recall the god-made-me-do-it excuses of the Yorkshire Ripper.
In an email James told me that his ideal readership were people who identified with those in the novel – young or not so young, goth/camp psychonauts, determined on upholding the principles of self-will. They are also Satanists. If you are not familiar with Satanism as it is practiced in the English-speaking world today, perhaps I need to explain (as Mclachlan does) that far from being the drug-addled blood-lust-orgy shenanigans of an elite of crazed libertines, the Church of Satan presents a lucid and cohesive philosophical and practical denunciation of the life-denying sexually repressive extremes of christianity. Based on the writings of its founder Anton La Vey, the Church of Satan seeks to encourage an awareness and identification with ones real, deep and untamed needs outside the strictures of a morality defined by the monotheisms, and to engender personal responsibility for meeting one’s own needs. Although I find La Vey’s writings a tad dated (particularly the unreconstructed sexism of Diary of a Satanic Witch), I find the self-determinism liberating, and what normal human being wouldn’t prefer comfort over a hair shirt, emotional satisfaction above eternally delayed gratification. (To find out more read Gavin Baddley’s Lucifer Rising (Plexus 1999) for a superb history and commentary on C20th satanic groupings).
This may all sound very heavy and cerebral but Mclachlan’s story bounds along, leaping from one surreal improbability to the next, twisting in hilarious character-driven episodes, it is fast and entertaining. Although I enjoyed the twists and turns of the story and delighted in the acerbic wit of the character asides and vignettes, it is difficult to discuss the plot without divulging too much. In this and other ways the novel reminded me of Jack Barrow’s The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil and Dice and Dysfunctionality by Fay Knight. All three novels are essentially comic occult thrillers concerning contemporary social groupings – Satanists (Mclachlan), Chaos Magicians (Barrow) and Role-Players (Knight) – who are running around like headless chickens trying to avert a snowballing, potentially global, catastrophe. I don’t think I’m giving too much away to say that it all turns out sorta alright really in the end. Incidentally, all three authors are also published by small independent presses and are worth keeping an eye on in the future.

Jean Dark
January 2012

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