When Emma runs away from her perfect life in London to return to the commune where she was brought up, she leaves behind a husband and a newborn daughter.
Emma is not even really her name. Named Rowan, after a tree in the commune, she was abandoned 30 years ago by her mother. Now, frightened by her maternal inadequacy and anger, she returns to the Ithaca Institute to seek her out. In Close Your Eyes, Ewan Morrison interrogates the disjunct between Rowan’s life today – the well-constructed life she flees – and the one she carries with her. The physical and emotional violence of childhood at Ithaca (attacked by local children, exposed to sex and vicious communal living rows) is pieced together as she explores what Ithaca has become.
The physical nature of Rowan’s pain at abandoning her child is one of the most startling things about this book. Her aching milk-heavy breasts act as a constant reminder of this. In one graphic scene she relieves them, exhorting herself: ‘Don’t think of the picture, of this woman, late at night in some motorway services milking herself into a toilet.’ You have to look away. Often the sense of impending disaster makes you sick with nervous tension. At other times, Morrison creates calm from the most unlikely circumstances. In a book that is somewhere between Esther Freud’s Hideous Kinky and Jez Butterworth’s play Jerusalem, Morrison creates something both uncomfortable and beautiful to read.