Book review: Close Your Eyes, by Ewan Morrison
IN THIS, his fourth novel, Ewan Morrison continues his fascination with form and structure. His previous book, Tales From The Mall, blended fact and fiction in fascinating ways, mixing short stories inspired by real life interviews with information on the growth of mall culture. Here, he pushes his experimental techniques a step further, using alternating narrative voices, song lyrics and advice manuals to tell the story.
His main character, Rowan, was abandoned as a child, and the novel is concerned with her search for her mother and need to know whether she really died when her car swerved off the road back in 1981. Leaving her own baby and husband in London she sets off for the north of Scotland on the trail of her mother Jenna, revisiting Ithaca, the commune in which she spent her childhood. She catches up with Eva, the cult leader and revisits the trauma of growing up in a society where the nuclear family doesn’t exist and the children bear the brunt of hostile reactions from the local townsfolk.
At first the hippies live out their idealistic dream – Jenna, Pete, Eva and the rest of the happy band sing, plant vegetables, build shelters, but soon the realities of a harsh Scottish climate set in and the downsides of collective living result in a loss of the self amid the petty sexual jealousies that result from free love. Jenna becomes a drudge, unacknowledged and shadowy, her attempts at escape futile until at last she disappears completely. The children, Rowan and her beloved Jono, fare even worse, with the bullying meted out to them after school described with a graphic brutality. Morrison’s portrayal is harsh, yet there is still sympathy for the naive idealism of the social revolutionaries of the 1960s and 1970s.
One of the successes of the book is Morrison’s convincing use of a female narrator. He writes about breastfeeding and motherhood in a completely natural way and the reader forgets the author is male. Yet Rowan is not just a woman, she is everyman, anyone who has struggled with depression, disappointment, abandonment and disillusion.
Close Your Eyes is yet another step on Morrison’s journey to understand what makes society tick and take a close look at what happens when people do close their eyes.
Highlights include the page-turning pleasure of a well-turned plot, Morrison’s skilful crafting of character and dialogue and his confident handling of stylistic techniques. There is betrayal, passion, idealism and defeat, the triumphs of human behaviour as well as its petty, craven failures as his utopia loses its ideals in order to survive.
Ultimately, there is hope, however, as Rowan comes to terms with her past and reconnects with both her mother’s memory and her own child, and the reader is left to conclude that ultimately, a mother’s love conquers all.
Jonathan Cape, £14 .99
• Edinburgh International Book Festival, 11 August, 8.30pm, and 12 August, 8.30pm, with Andrew Keen
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