Cover Image: Holding Her Breath

Holding Her Breath

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Member Reviews

Firstly, it’s so wonderful  to see so many new strong Irish female authors of late and Eimear Ryan might be my new favourite.

This doesn’t read like some debut novels, the writing is so confident and assured. This author has her craft well mastered.

Beth is starting college slightly older than her classmates, after spending her teen years as a competitive swimmer. Her grandfather was a famous poet and although she never knew him, she’s shied away from his fame and legend through her school years . Now  she finds herself almost a celebrity by association as she finds her feet in Trinity College.

I didn’t really know where this book was going as I read the opening chapters but it didn’t really matter as I was enjoying the writing.
A coming of age story, a family mystery, friendships, an affair and I really enjoyed how the various locations in Ireland where the book takes place , were so well captured and portrayed.. 

There are some brilliant  characters, the descriptions were so vivid  of Beth’s family members in particular, that I felt I knew them .

The story took a little while to fully engage me and then it did completely , soaring
to a really beautiful conclusion. I loved this. I’m looking forward to whatever Eimear Ryan writes next.

4.5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
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Holding Her Breath is a debut novel by Eimear Ryan, co-editor of the well-respected Irish literary magazine Banshee. Beth Crowe is a national swimmer who had to drop out of school due to a personal crisis for a couple of years, and is now starting university at Trinity College. She feels a bit awkward in the new environment but she can count on her extrovert roommate Sabie. Beth is also the granddaughter of Benjamin Crowe, a famous poet who died in tragic circumstances before her birth, which puts her in the spotlight in her new academic environment. At the same time, she finds herself drawn toward an (engaged) post-doc lecturer who has a strong interest in Crowe’s poetry. Discussions about his grandfather’s poetry and mysterious death abound and, determined to understand more about him, Beth will delve into some documents in her grandma’s possession to discover family secrets that have long been buried.

This is a very readable, coming of age novel exploring conventionalism in Irish society, what keeps people together, relationships deemed illicit, pain and healing, and it does so through two different, nicely intertwined plots (illicit love affair and family secrets). In some parts characters and situations seemed a bit cliched and modelled on romance novels (the sassy roommate, the timid new student with the gorgeous swimmer body, the illicit romance with a good-looking tutor), which was not for me, but I am wondering if this was done on purpose, as an attempt to show the main character move away from a conventional plot. The unravelling of the family secret was the more interesting part and redeemed it toward the end.

All in all, this is a well-crafted novel and a readable, accessible book, written a clear and simple style  that makes it an appealing read for the summer, and for Pride month as well.
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This is certainly a thoughtfully written novel. The prose is crystal clear and precise. I did however feel somewhat removed from the characters and their experiences. While many of their conversations rang true to life many scenes left me wanting more (out of the characters, their dialogues). Still, I would definitely recommend this to young adults as it makes for a relatively quick read that has clearly been written with empathy.
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Ireland has been hailed as the land of saints and scholars, for our long legacy of talented poets and authors. From Yeats to Heaney, Irish culture is steeped in beautiful, rich prose.

Eimear Ryan takes full advantage of this with her debut novel, Holding Her Breath as she explores what it would be like to live in this legacy. Our main character, Beth Crowe has spent her entire childhood living in the shadow of her iconic grandfather as she tries to make a name for herself as a competitive swimmer.

When she begins college, she realises that she can finally step out of that shadow and become her own person. But the past is hard to bury, especially when your grandfather is one of Ireland’s greatest poets, Benjamin Crowe.

Despite dying before she was born, Benjamin’s legacy still hangs over her and she struggles to deal with the cult of celebrity that follows his name alone. Especially when she meets hunky postdoc researcher, Justin, who has his own obsession with her grandfather, a man she never met but can’t seem to shuck.

Most Irish books written by and for young women are usually compared to Sally Rooney’s Normal People. But Eimear Ryan isn’t ‘the next Sally Rooney’, she deserves to be given a space all by herself in the Irish author sphere. She’s definitely put in the work to be there.

She uses her wealth of knowledge in her debut novel, Holding Her Breath which could easily stray into a more stereotypical territory, where a young woman is seduced by her leery older lecturer. But instead, this novel focuses on all important female friendship and finding yourself.
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Holding Her Breath follows Beth, who is starting University at Trinity College Dublin, She is a little older than her fellow students due to having to take some time out due to a crisis. She is a talented swimmer but is grappling with how competitive swimming makes her feel. Her grandfather was a very famous poet, Benjamin Crowe, which many of her fellow university students idolise and love. He died before she was born and she want to find out more about him and his life. 

I really loved this book. I love novels set at university, I think it is one of my favourite settings for a book likely as I am a university student myself. I was really invested in this story, I felt really connected to Beth and really related to her. Her relationships with her family and her friends were really fun to read, especially the relationship with her grandmother as she was such as an amazing woman. It was intriguing to slowly gather more information throughout about her grandfather and who he was as a person and also finding out more about her grandmother, it was a really subtle but effective mystery. 

I wasn't too interested in the subplot about her having an affair with a post-doc student, but I do think it worked to further the plot of the novel. As he was the one that propels her into looking into her grandfathers path. 

If you loved Snowflake, I think you would also enjoy Holding Her Breath. I recommend this book if you like coming of age university stories, this one with added intrigue of discovering a dead relatives past. I am definitely interested in reading more from Eimear Ryan in the future.
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Holding Her Breath is a remarkable and relatable debut from Eimear Ryan. A contemporary novel, it tells the story of Beth Crowe , a young woman starting her study of psychology at Trinity College Dublin. A little older than most of her classmates, Beth is looking forward to experiencing a more normal student life, having taken some time out after a crisis that saw her scupper her dreams of becoming an Olympic swimmer. Keen to build a new life for herself she moves into campus accommodation and soon forms a friendship with her new roommate. 
Beth's grandfather was a renowned poet, whose work was studied in classrooms the length and breadth of the country, but he died before she was born. The shadow of his death and the events that led up to it has hung over Beth's family for years. When Beth meets Justin, a post- doc from the English department, she is drawn into an illicit relationship that sparks her curiosity about her family history, and leads her to uncover a truth that explains a lot about her family's silence over the years. 
This is a really compelling read, I was completely invested in the character of Eimear, and her fascinating family, particularly her wise and acerbic grandmother. I found her struggles to adjust to her new life completely believable , and loved the dynamic between her and Sadie , her chalk and cheese roommate. The backstory of the family history was interesting, and really well woven into the main storyline. 
The pacing is gentle but the book still flows well, and I never lost interest in the story being told. 
I read and reviewed an ARC courtesy of NetGalley and the Publisher, all opinions are my own.
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A really interesting story set in Ireland. Beth is the granddaughter off a renowned poet who died in tragic circumstances that are guarded by her strong grandmother. Even Beth doesn't know the real truth of his death. 
When Beth goes to university she is treated as a minor celebrity because of her family so she goes to search out the truth about her family secrets.
I enjoyed this original novel which has more depth than is first apparent. I think this would appeal to Sally Rooney fans.
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This debut has a number of quite affecting scenes held together with stunningly evocative imagery. However, it also houses flimsy arcs that don't feel fully realised. The main romantic/sexual relationship felt rushed and emotionally stunted at times. Ryan's understanding of environment and its associated atmosphere is impressive and gave the scenes in West Cork an eerie, haunted feel. I look forward to reading more of Eimear Ryan's work in the future.
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A quick and easy read that I found myself picking up after a long day to unwind. The characters are beautifully written and I came to love them within the first few pages and was rooting for them all the way to the end. At times I wanted to stop reading because I just wanted the experience to go on for longer.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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Holding Her Breath is a novel that combines friendship, relationships, a personal crisis and a family mystery into a coming of age tale that is so intimate and satisfying in its telling and its denouement. 

The book centres on Beth Crowe, studying psychology in Trinity and swimming laps of the pool there, finding her way again after crashing out of competitive swimming. 

Beth’s grandfather was a renowned Irish poet which results in Beth becoming something of an object of fascination on campus. In particular, she attracts the attention of Justin, a post-doc in the English department who encourages Beth to find out more about the relationship between her grandparents and thus solve some of the mysteries pertaining to the late poet’s life and death. 

I don’t want to give anything further of the plot away, suffice to say this book is beautifully written and nicely paced, with compelling dialogue and a gorgeous mix of settings in Trinity, Beth’s home place and West Cork. It’s a really assured debut novel that deserves lots of attention. 4/5⭐️ 

*Holding Her Breath will be published on 17 June 2021. I’m grateful to have read an advance copy of the book courtesy of the publisher @penguinbooks via @netgalley. As always, this is an honest review.*
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I could write thousands of words about this book! Elegant and assured, Eimear Ryan’s debut fiction offering is the story of one Beth Crowe, a twenty-year-old who has just started her first year of university, haunted by her past failings as a competitive swimmer. At university,  Beth finds a clique - artsy types, students and teachers both, flock to her due to her legendary grandfather, the now-deceased poet Ben Crowe. Not content with the mysteries surrounding his death, Beth takes a journey to find out more about him - and gets more than she expects. 
Holding Her Breath is a delicious coming-of-age story of a young woman stepping out from the shadows of her family, as well as her past self.  At first, it seems to be the latest in a long line of ‘sad young woman goes to Trinity novels’,  but it’s set apart by both Beth’s mysterious family history and sporting prowess. Swimming is an intense and permanent element of the novel’s plot, and Beth’s complex relationship with the sport is wonderfully portrayed. Ryan also places the novel apart by seemingly deliberately obscuring Trinity College as her main setting, rather than leaning into its perceived grandiosity. The sense of place is no less sharp for this, though - if anything, it frees the reader to wander Dublin with Beth, untouched by any weight of history that is not her own family’s. 
Beth is a character I found it hard to warm to, at first - she’s closed off, wry and seems almost hard at times. But as the novel progressed, I fell wildly in love with her. She’s every inch a twenty-year-old - prone to stupid decisions which are relayed with toe-curling cringe in the novel, impulsive, and deeply vulnerable. Getting to know her throughout the novel was an absolute pleasure. It’s also worth noting that this is the first novel I’ve read of this kind - literary, written by a young Irish woman, set in affluent circles in Dublin - that’s not suffused with self-hatred or body image trouble. Beth has her own difficulties, of course, but never once are we treated to a discussion of her weight, or her body generally, really. It’s refreshing, and can be linked back to Beth’s competitive swimming career - her body is, as she says, a machine. Not much more is made of it. 
Character, plot and place all are exquisitely crafted in this book, and there is such clever use of metaphor and doubling, too! I was delighted by Ryan’s clever connections throughout the story - to go into them is to spoil things, but they are truly wonderful. In general, the story is beautifully written with precise and elegant writing, a stronger sense of place than many debuts I’ve read, and well-honed characters. There’s a lot going on in Holding her Breath, but debut novelist Ryan handles the complexity of plot well - we have a coming-of-age story, a mystery, a love affair, and a mourning of a lost sporting career. They’re weaved together impressively, though frequent returns to the ‘present’ of Beth’s past tense narration does remove a certain amount of urgency from the narrative. 
Fans of Sally Rooney will love this book - and I don’t use that comparison lightly. Having read many Irish female debuts in the last few years, this is honestly the closest I’ve found to Rooney’s magic. With an emotional core that is quietly devastating, Holding Her Breath is a beautifully structured and affecting novel - quite simply, a triumph.
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Holding Her Breath hold similar elements to Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends and Normal People and Naoise Dolan’s Exciting Times. 

Beth is a swimmer and the granddaughter of a famous Irish poet, Benjamin Crowe, who killed himself. At university she sits in on a lecture about her grandfather and meets a lecturer Justin who she has a very brief relationship with. When her grandmother passes away after holding many secrets about Ben, Beth wants to try uncover the secrets about her family and potentially the reason behind his suicide. 

This was unfortunately a very flat read for me. It took me a while to get into it and I felt quite bored for the majority of it. There were a few key plot points that were quite exciting, but they also felt very boring and underdeveloped. For example the affair Beth has with lecturer. This was potentially exploitive on the part of Justin as he obviously romanticised Beth because of her family.

Despite my personal negative opinions I appreciated the idea of family secrets and how the unraveling of them affected Beth, however there didn’t seem to be any resolve where this was concerned. I will rate this 3 just because I don’t think it was awful enough to rate any lower!

Thank you @Netgalley and @PenguinUkBooks for providing me with a copy of this to review.
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An interesting book dealing with all sorts of family and other complex  relationships, including Beths relationship with herself. She learns and grows throughout this book, dealing with grief, guilt, love and self worth. I enjoyed this book, with its twists and turns, and would recommend it. Thanks to netgalley for an advance copy.
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Beth Crowe, an almost-has-been Olympic swimmer, starts at 20 her psychology studies at university where the fame of her famous dead poet grandfather, Ben, will effectively become the springboard through which she starts connecting with the world around her, making friends, starting relationships, and ultimately deepening her sense and knowledge of herself and her own family.

I really liked the swimming/poetry paring, as well as the way the storyline (Beth is recovering from a sporting burnout, her grandfather committed suicide by drowning) meanders in connections, parallels, divergences in unexpected ways, with suspense and tension administered with subtle humour and irony. It is a momentous year of discovery for Beth, a fragile yet strong, inexperienced yet increasingly surefooted young woman.

The writing is precise, descriptions create quickly a real sense of place and time, characters are drawn convincingly. I liked that many things are left implied, and that the obvious artistic decisions about symmetries in plot or character through the timelines are there to be enjoyed and allow you to step outside the confines of this story and go for a more personal interpretation.

Perhaps the actual revelatory crux is an easy way out, and makes the figure of the grandmother a rather more sinister character in her tyranny (yes, tyranny!!) but it also allows for a tangential discussion of very topical matters... 

There are loads to enjoy and discuss in this ambitious novel. Recommended!!  (I thank Penguin Books and Netgalley for the advance copy.)
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Ryan's writing style is gentle and sincere and it makes for an absolutely heart-warming novel, even when it delves into deep and heavy themes, in a delicate manner.
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This is a wonderful novel - held me entirely from the first page to the last. Clever and erudite without ever working too hard it tells the story of Beth - her own ambitions, challenges and hardships unmet and forced to be faced as she makes the steady transition into her own person - trapped and cowed to some degree, initially, by her family legacy. The very thing that will, in time, be the key to her release. 
Beautiful prose, smart, delicate storytelling (Are you a virgin? her halls' roommate asks her. Only emotionally, she replies - genius character summation/emotional deep-dive right there...), my only issue – and it's a small one – is that if felt that for Beth to understand anyone else's motivations, she seemed to have to experience something similar for herself first. 
Can't wait to see what Ryan does next. 4.5 stars - rounding up happily to 5.
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I couldn’t put this book down. There’s nothing quite like a story set in Ireland but this was extra special. Beth was the most likeable and endearing character. Watching her grow and develop from the very first chapter until that beautiful ending was so moving. She felt like a friend you’ve known all your life and you couldn’t help but root for her. 

Holding Her Breath is such a gentle and moving story with heavy themes throughout. The way the author handled Ben’s suicide was so respectful. She didn’t glamorise it. She didn’t make it out to be some shameful scandal, but wrote about it with care. 

The way Beth and Sadie’s friendship developed throughout the book was beautiful to follow. The friendships and relationships we find and lose in college have such an impact on the people we become so it was really refreshing to read a book that had both a toxic relationship (Justin) and one that made Beth stronger and happier (Sadie.) 

Holding Her Breath is one of my favourite books of the year so far. I feel so lucky that I got to read it.
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This book follows Beth, who's grandfather was a famous poet. Her grandfather's death shadows her and she feels as though those around her are interested in her for only one reason. Beth seems to struggle at university at the beginning of the book but slowly starts to ease into herself and comes of age in this brilliant book. 

I really enjoyed this book for many reasons. First of all, the friendship between Beth and Sadie was brilliant, I like how it wasn't likely for them to be friends as they are polar opposites but eventually the bond becomes very tight knit. I also like the relationship between Lydia and Beth. Lydia seems to keep Beth on her toes and I really liked seeing the dynamics between the two of them. 

Another reason I liked this book was the fact that the romance was not front and centre of Beth's life. Some coming of age books can be all about romance but this one was about Beth truly finding herself and helping her family find peace. 

I loved the twist of Lydia and Julie being lovers, as I never expected it. I wish we got to hear more about the two of them as it was a brilliant addition to the plot.

I rated this book three stars and that is mainly because I felt a little lost when I first started it. I wasn't sure where the book was heading and if I liked the direction it was heading in, especially Beth's affair situation. However, the last 100 pages definitely helped redeem itself. I think it was wrapped up brilliantly and I didn't finish it asking for more, I was very satisfied.
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Really beautiful book.  I loved the friendship between Beth and Sadie.  The back story of her family was absolutely wonderful.  I could taste the sea air and wanted to be drinking whiskey with her grandfather.
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I've read so many novels featuring young Irish women recently it could probably be described as its own genre, but this was my favorite of the bunch. Beth is a likable, nuanced, smart and interesting character and I loved the fact that she had issues, worries and ambitions of her own, rather than having her entire thought processes dictated to by a difficult relationship. I loved her grandfather's story too and would happily read a novel about Lydia. A triumph
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