Close Your Eyes by Ewan Morrison

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Close Your Eyes by Ewan Morrison

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: Emma is struggling to come to terms with motherhood, and escapes in search of the truth about her own mother and in search of herself in this beautifully written story.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 264 Date: August 2013
Publisher: Vintage
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780099565758

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1981: Emma remembers driving through a blizzard. That is, her mother was driving, she was just a child. She remembers her mother singing. Throughout everything, what she remembers, what everyone remembers, is how her mother sang. Actually, she remembers lots of other things about her mother. Snippets mostly. Then she remembers losing her… being dropped in London at her Dad's, who didn't really seem like the dad she remembered… then the Social taking her away.

2011 (or thereabouts) : Emma is a new mother herself. It is not the blissful time she might have hoped for. Post natal depression heightened (deepened?) by the way her daughter smiles so readily for her father, calms and quietens at a single word from him while screaming her mother to distraction. Emma and Josh are text book parents – literally – everything is done according to the formula in the manual. Except when Josh decides not to.

Josh is such a caring generous man Emma tells herself You love your husband. He is everything a woman could want. Educated, sensitive, a good listener, principal breadwinner, but respects and encourages your career. He does all the cooking. He designed the kitchen and bought all the Le Creuset pots. He massages your shoulders…

Personally, I came up with a few other words to describe him – but readers should make their own judgments.

Emma's story is told in the second person. It's a hard voice to master successfully but Morrison has done so, by having Emma speak not to the reader as such, but to herself. It's episodic, disjointed, rambling at times, but in Emma's half-demented state, that fits.

1981: the Dornoch Times reported the death of a woman in a road accident. Not a local woman – the residents of the hippy commune known as Ithaca weren't accepted as locals, not even the long-stayers who bowed to authority at least sufficiently to put their children in the local schools, where they'd be bullied and harassed and learn less than they ever did at home, except what they learned about another way of life: a way they were too young to know whether they wanted or not, but certainly a way that had its attractions in trainers and television, make-up and magazines: a way of life that tempted them into being the thieves they were already condemned for.

2011: Emma worries that she might harm her child or herself, so one night she simply drives away. She needs some time out, to talk to someone from the past, someone who knows about the past, who knows who she really is.

That someone is Charlie.

Charlie has moved on, though. Charlie doesn't understand. Charlie betrays.

And so Emma knows that she has to go north, go back to Ithaca and see what she can find of her own mother there. She'd always been told that her mother had died in a car accident, but there doesn't ever seem to have been a funeral (or nobody went), and then there's the postcard: sent two weeks after she allegedly died. Maybe, just maybe…

But of course, it's thirty years on. Ithaca is no longer the place she grew up in.

Close Your Eyes is a deeply thoughtful book. It examines the original hippy culture in all its glorious idealism and blind faith and wilful ignorance. It takes us through the disintegration of the ideals, as the love and peace morphed through the anger of frustration into direct action and the violence it spawned. It takes us through the new age philosophies presented here as a cynical capitalist false rebirth. All of it set in an Edge of Darkness world where the powers that be are not to be trusted, but where those on the other side of fence don't exactly come up any more rose-scented.

There is a mystery at the heart of the story, but the true lyrical heart of the book is in the beauty of the writing and in the compassion that Morrison extracts for most of her characters. Ultimately all people are living their own lives by their own lights she seems to be saying. Sometimes the combination of light is intensely beautiful – and sometimes it's a destructive fire-flash.

As the story unfolded the more I longed for some kind of happy ending for Emma, even as it became less and less likely. In the event, what Morrison pulls off is far more satisfying.

I doubt that this is a book to change your life, but I'd like to hope it's one to make you re-examine your prejudices (which we all have).

It left me more than ever convinced that I was born 15 years too late. The hippies got a lot of stuff wrong, but it could have, should have, worked better than it did. Maybe if it had spread further or lasted long enough to overcome the prejudice, maybe if the people involved had realised that changing the world takes a century or two, it would have stood a better chance.

For those of a less romantically philosophical bent, read it as a riveting insight into one woman's journey to find herself and you'll enjoy it just as much.

Highly recommended.

If you enjoyed this you might also be tempted by What I Was by Meg Rosoff. We also have a review of Menage by Ewan Morrison.

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Buy Close Your Eyes by Ewan Morrison at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Close Your Eyes by Ewan Morrison at


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