PositiveIndependentIn Eimear Ryan’s moving debut, 20-year-old Beth Crowe arrives at Trinity College Dublin accompanied by the shadow of her late grandfather Ben...One of the country’s most celebrated poets, his works are included on the Leaving Cert syllabus and frequently quoted at weddings, funerals and political rallies...What sets Ben apart, however, is his suicide: he died by drowning when Beth’s mother was still a child, so Beth never had the chance to meet him...Given the public’s fixation on his death, both her mother, Alice, and grandmother, Lydia, prefer not to talk about him, turning down interviews, burning his journals and denying scholars access to his archives...The title of Ryan’s novel nods to the other shadow following Beth: her past as a promising competitive swimmer...A couple of years earlier, a breakdown brought her Olympic hopes crashing down, and when she recovers enough to enrol at Trinity, she is eager to carve out a new identity distinct from her earlier swimming glory...Readers may wonder how many novels about students finding themselves at Trinity College we really need...Happily, Holding Her Breath takes us out of Dublin for the final section...It is on this road trip across the country that Beth uncovers hidden truths about not only her grandparents but herself, too...The beautiful closing passage will stay in readers’ minds, bringing this story to a satisfying conclusion.
PositiveIndependent (IRE)Clever ... As well as being a compelling literary thriller, Magpie offers an intimate, unflinching portrait of infertility, laying bare the pain and heartache of struggling to conceive ... The women of Day’s novel are for the most part brilliantly formed ... But as Magpie progresses, she tends to favour plot over character. Jake remains a one-dimensional figure, perhaps by design to stir suspense around his motives. The storyline about Marisa’s family is abandoned, while a return to her viewpoint later in the novel would have helped ground the conclusion ... The midway change in perspective also changes the pace, as the story slows down before reaching a subdued climax and an ending that feels too tidy and too easy, following the twisty, gasp-worthy narrative that preceded it. Yet after 300 pages that veer between tense thriller, psychological drama and moments of almost Gothic horror, such optimism may be welcome.
PositiveIndependent (IRE)[The] new cast filing in to deliver their life stories can feel a little repetitive and formulaic, without the extracurricular activities to flesh out the characters beyond the therapy sessions. Thankfully, however, Keyes has done away with her fondness for writing in dialect, proving she doesn’t need phonetic speech to easily distinguish between different nationalities and backgrounds ... Deeply felt ... Though some readers may find the resolution of Rachel’s recovery storyline a touch too neat, the build-up to that point is expertly crafted, as Keyes delves into what happens when a loss is so overwhelming that your usual support systems stop providing comfort ... That portrait of grief, in particular the challenge it poses to those in recovery, is rendered with great compassion and acute emotional honesty ... Unlike the brisk, lively narration of the earlier books, loaded with the tension of a thriller, Again, Rachel is a more languorous reading experience, and its 600-odd pages take a while to get going.
PositiveThe Irish Independent (IRE)Nealon’s account of Debbie’s first experience as a commuter is hilariously astute ... you can tell Nealon is very fond of this concept, and clings to it even when it adds little to the story. It may be an effort to bring a fresh dimension to the coming-of-age story given the recent success of other young Irish female voices. Yet the dreams hover around the edges of the narrative, intruding just when the reader may have forgotten about them, before the concept trails off without any deeper exploration ... much stronger in its study of mental health, particularly the way the novel addresses the silence and shame around depression, addiction and suicide in Irish culture ... This is where Nealon’s clear, unfussy style is most effective: Debbie and Xanthe are part of a generation frequently told they have it easier than their parents ever did, and even Debbie finds it hard to accept that someone from an affluent background like Xanthe could have any serious problems ... Debbie is often achingly naive ... Nealon does a lovely job in tracing Debbie’s gradual understanding of both her own mental health, and her family’s attempts to hide and ignore their issues until it’s almost too late. The depiction of mental illness is raw and often painful, making this not just a sharp, tender coming-of-age story for Debbie, but for the whole cast of Nealon’s characters.