Holding Her Breath by Eimear Ryan – Review
By Emma Stamp
When Beth Crowe starts university in Dublin, she is shadowed by the ghost of her potential as a competitive swimmer. Free to create a fresh identity for herself, she finds herself among people who adore the poetry of her grandfather, Benjamin Crowe, who died tragically before she was born.–
Beth feels as though the people around her are more interested in her because of her famous grandfather, rather than who she is. She embarks on a secret relationship and is on a quest to discover the truth about Benjamin and his widow, her beloved grandmother, Lydia. The quest brings her into an archive that no scholar has ever seen – and to a person who knows things about her family that nobody else knows.
The early chapters are familiar – the typical outsider starting university, not quite fitting in and having an affair with an academic – but the book soon veers off on an unexpected tangent and draws the reader in.
We see Beth having to deal with the past in different ways, both in regard to her failed swimming career and the death and life of her grandfather, and how this has impacts her and continues to influence her life going forward.
“Importance of the bond”
The author deals with the suicide of Beth’s grandfather very sensitively. By not glamourising it or making it into a shameful event, the event is dealth with skilfully and respectfully.
For some coming of age novels the romance aspect can be the most important part, however I was pleased that the book did not centre around this and that the author focused more on Beth trying to find herself and accept the death of her grandfather.
I enjoyed the friendship aspect of the novel, especially Beth’s friendship with Sadie who supported her throughout, and it demonstrated that friendships can form when least expected, and when people have little in common. I also really enjoyed the relationship between Beth and her grandmother Lydia. The importance of the bond people have with their grandparents is a neglected area in literature.
Whilst the book ends quite suddenly, I did enjoy the simplicity of it and I did not find myself asking any more questions. Indeed, watching Beth grow and develop from the very first chapter until the end, made me feel as if I had known her for years.
A compulsive summer read, with some clever, poetic prose. Holding Her Breath is, in fact, a brilliant coming-of-age book.
‘Holding Her Breath’ by Eimear Ryan is published by Sandycove, £12.99 paperback