By DREW GALLAGHER FOR THE FREE LANCE–STAR

Going through my mental checklist of trappings I enjoy in a novel, Eimear Ryan’s “Holding Her Breath” ticked all the boxes.

The author is Irish and the setting is Ireland—Check.

Located on a university campus with opportunities for me to flex my major credits in English – Check.

Presentation of the jacket of Roddy Doyle, one of my favorite authors, extolling the merits of this first novel: Check.

So a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. I liked “Holding Her Breath”, but I didn’t like “Holding Her Breath”. That being said, I hope Ryan has another novel in her and I would love to read it.

The protagonist is Beth Crowe, who enters college as she tries to reconcile the ghosts of her past. One of those ghosts is the fact that she was so close to qualifying for the Irish Olympic swimming team. (Irish swimming success has always been measured in qualifying rather than medals, but Michelle Smith won four medals, including three golds, at the Atlanta Games in 1996. Of course, that was so out of about an Irish swimmer that she was harassed by doping allegations, which were never proven. She became a lawyer, which has nothing to do with the story but is a better anecdote.) Beth likes that she is relatively anonymous on campus and can swim without the pressure that has come with her quest for the Olympics.

People also read…

The other ghost is Beth’s grandfather, who was considered one of the greatest Irish poets of his time until he committed suicide while he died after jumping off a cliff. Beth and her grandfather share a surname, so when her roommate, a fan of her grandfather’s verses, causally asks if she’s related to the great Irish bard, she tells him she is. This revelation causes Beth’s roommate to take her to a talk about Beth’s grandfather given by a handsome English teacher. The professor, who is trying to access the poet’s archives, carefully guarded by Beth’s grandmother, becomes romantically involved with Beth or, perhaps, her lineage. An affair ensues.

There’s a lot of potential in this storyline, but Ryan never fully embraces the opportunities available in the “is he a shameless rake who wants access to his grandfather’s diaries or does he really care about Beth at because of her inner beauty?” But Ryan saves her heroine from the cliché jumping cliff and creates an interesting narrative about Beth’s discovery of a poet grandfather she never knew in her life. A beautiful first novel that suggests better is yet to come.

Drew Gallagher is a freelance writer and videobook reviewer at Spotsylvania.

Drew Gallagher is a freelance writer and videobook reviewer at Spotsylvania.