Erin by Robert Dickins
Rob Dickins is well known as a guru of psychedelia and an avid participant in the British festival scene and here, in his first novella, he blends the two ingredients in a startlingly original and creative fusion. Erin takes place over the span of the Solpsycle Gathering; a medium-scale festival with a strong New Age ambience. Lije – ‘a schizophrenic…a journalist [and] a druggie’ – and his group of mates move somnambulantly through festy space-time, bearing the chaotic, fractured perceptions of non-stop partying. Enter the beautiful and enigmatic Erin, who manifests to Lije as a psychonautic guide, leading him through extravagant mushroom and salvia trips in an odyssey of self discovery.
At first Lije is entranced: ‘A flower appeared before my eyes and began to blossom. It blossomed in fractals, geometrically, as petals beget petals beget petals beget petals; the slow turn of a planetary arc. Reds, blues and greens, organic tendrils that spread outwards at a speed unfathomable to my frozen awareness.’ But the path is a tricky one and, deeper into the trip, an insidious spirit appears who lures Lije into bad places. For indeed, beneath it all, a dreadful truth lurks, and somehow Lije must come to terms with it.
The word paintings of altered states are right up there with the best and Rob’s freeform, lyrical style ideally suits the nature of such experience. He’s particularly good on the fast-shifting and overlapping effects of multiple substance use, with mushrooms, MDMA, LSD and salvia all playing a part, and not forgetting spliffs and cider! The rushes, the exuberant highs and the sudden nosedives into paranoia all surge through the reader in a dizzying accelerated compression. And the various textures of festival life, with the mud, the discomfort, the sometimes bullying guards and the music, which ‘shimmered into fractals that danced around my eyes’ are all superbly rendered.
Erin then is no mere documentary record but a sophisticated multi-levelled psychodrama, where Lije’s battles with his inner demons, set against the richly hallucinated backdrop of Solpsycle, come to resemble some fin de siècle Technicolor Greek myth. It’s a psy-novel for the high-tech age, in which the wide array of substances available and the composite polymorphous nature of their effects reflect our zeitgeist, just as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas encapsulated the souring of the hippy dream back in the early 1970s. Erin is a marvellous debut, and a book that anyone who wants to sample a slice of today’s psychedelic culture should read.
From back: “When protagonist Elijah Baillie wakes up early one morning in the arms of a mysterious girl called Erin, he has no memory of who he is and how he got there. As the day unfolds, his memories start flooding back as he is forced to confront the spectre of an unconscious evil, as a plethora of psychedelics, and a festival on the verge of anarchy, lead him irrevocably toward a dark confrontation with his past – edgy and fast, Erin will suck you right into the mayhem.”