Jonathan Cape, £16.99 Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop

Close Your Eyes, By Ewan Morrison

A searing novel of a cult community and its casualties captures both the thrill and the costs of escape.

For those with revolutionary yearnings, it's one of the more seductive whispers in our hearts: if all modern life is rubbish, then we must commit to a form of existence that challenges all existing behaviours, that lets us taste the future.

In the manifesto of Eva, the charismatic but controlling guru at the heart of Ewan Morrison's elegant and urgent novel, this truth "came to me like a voice... whispering to me, to leave the world of noisy clamour, to find others like me and no longer be alone".

Buy this book from the Independent bookshop

The reader of these words is Rowan, whose new child has unearthed in her a chasm of family trauma suffered at the hands of Eva and her "intentional community" named Ithaca, nestling in the Highlands. Yet even the postnatally-depressed, searingly cynical Rowan – fleeing from her baby to solve the mystery of her mother's death – has to admit to being moved by Eva's words. Indeed, the whole of Close Your Eyes is an admirable and intimate wrestling with the damages incurred by trying to heal, as Adorno once called modernity, "a damaged life".

Morrison has a good ear, apparently rooted in his own folkie childhood with Communist parents, for the self-justifications of radical living from the 1970s until now. When modern life is understood as a poisoned totality – where the "plastic people" around them are already "dust", dull-eyed consumerists sleepwalking their way to nuclear armageddon – the alternative is a swirl of experiments, an embrace of mess and chaos.

Closing your eyes becomes a moving trope. It's the sleep that Rowan desperately seeks for herself and her child, and the state in which her mother takes her on long drives to protest marches against Polaris and Dounreay, listening intently to folk and Beatles songs in the back seat. But it expresses Morrison's broader point about the destructive results of too much liberation and free expression in the family unit: children with multiple parents, parents coupling before their eyes, a militancy of the "organic" that dissolves the necessary boundaries between the "I" and "we" that prepare you for a functional adulthood.

Morrison is, however, a generous and wide-ranging dyspeptic. His novels have been steadily sharpening their dissection of the creative classes on these islands. He delights in their elaborate pratfalls of self-delusion and misapplied competence, slipping around on a permanent grease of sexual desire. So it's not just formless hippies that get it in the neck in Close Your Eyes, but the all-too-calibrated yuppies too. Rowan's husband, Josh, is a deliciously sketched prig – a PR man intoning baby manuals. In his cold emails, texts and voicemails, picked up by Rowan at the end of her quest, Morrison takes brutal glee in plumbing the puddle of metrosexual empathy.

Morrison's version of radical failure is at the shabby end of other recent renditions. Movies like Uli Eidel's The Baader-Meinhof Complex or Bertolucci's The Dreamers balance out the dangers of revolutionary narcissism with a 1970s sexiness. Hari Kunzru's novel My Revolutions is chiefly concerned with relativising our fears of Islamic terror by reminding us of how easily our own secular desperados once slid into violence.

Morrison's main beef is with the kind of hippie communalism and sub-Buddhist ontology ("it is what it is") flown from California. It sups greedily from the Celticised mists'*'mystery of the Scottish Highlands. In the search for her mother, Rowan discovers that at least she saw through the veils of self-indulgence, committing herself - however disastrously - to anti-nuclear protest. But Morrison is unsparing in his disdain for the forced communion and incoherent yearning that generally characterises the spiritual consumer. Anyone preparing their next trip to the Findhorn Community in Scotland should float past this book. But anyone wanting to read a wise, emotionally literate gauge of the burdens - and blarney - of alternative living should buy it immediately.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine