Holding Her Breath: A different take on the campus novel

Book review: Eimear Ryan’s stylish debut is about filling in the gaps in family history

Eimear Ryan’s debut novel is called Holding Her Breath.

Eimear Ryan’s debut novel is called Holding Her Breath.

Beth is in some ways a protagonist familiar to readers of recent Irish fiction. She’s a young woman leaving home for the first time to begin a degree at Trinity College, this time not in English lit (that’s her room-mate) but psychology. Unlike Rooney’s Marianne or Louise Nealon’s Debbie, Beth is not literally or metaphorically a country girl but a 20-year-old former elite swimmer and the granddaughter of a famous Irish poet. Her coming of age is about solving the mystery of her grandfather’s life and death, and though that story involves mental illness, Beth herself remains well enough.

We meet Beth alone in the pool in Trinity’s sports complex. “After a hundred laps she feels calm and rejuvenated, her body pinging with the tremors of exercise. An old, good feeling.” We follow her out of the pool, across campus to her room where “cardboard boxes stand in a loose ring… like a Neolithic monument” and then watch her explore her new room-mate’s book and film collection. 

The Irish Times
Please subscribe or sign in to continue reading.
The Irish Times

How can I keep reading?

You’ve reached an article that is only available to Irish Times subscribers.

Subscribe today and get the full picture for just €1 for the first month.

Subscribe No obligation, cancel any time.