Review: Try Not to Breathe
Lukas Hamilton reviews Holly Seddon’s addictive debut novel
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Upon finishing Holly Seddon’s debut novel Try Not to Breathe you are left with one, dominant thought; surely this isn’t her first novel?
Amy Stevenson is a normal teenage girl in 1999. She goes to grammar school, has a long-term boyfriend and wants to be a music journalist. She has a promising life ahead of her, until one day, these plans are cut short when she is beaten up and put into a vegetative state. Cut to 2010 and ex-journalist, ex-wife and full time alcoholic Alex Dale stumbles upon her while doing a freelance piece on patients in a vegetative states. Being around the same age, Alex remembers her story from the news in 1999, and decides to look into her attack, a crime that was never solved.
This novel is addictive.
Marketed to us as something on par with Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl), Seddon forces the reader to concentrate on what is happening with its switch between narratives, with the use of three main protagonists.
The first and most prominent one is Alex. She is extremely enjoyable and compelling to read. The inclusion of having her be an alcoholic worried me a bit at first, as I felt that if this aspect was done badly it could very much come across as cliché and drawn out. However, in Seddon’s hands, this aspect of her personality is done very well and is treated with just the right amount of tact, showing how much the alcohol has damaged almost everything of her professional and personal life, making you care a lot more for her character. Both Amy and Jacob’s narratives are also very compelling.
The changing from 3rd person to 1st person after her being put in the vegetative state makes for both a very interesting read as well as a much more personal experience for the reader, as she connects personally with us, talking to us, showing us how trapped she really is.
However, this being her first novel, there was always going to be minor bugs. The major one is the act of the investigation itself. Once you have finished the novel you are able to go over it and see that some of the suspense is completely misplaced, as Alex seems to be chasing multiple theories at once, with a lot of them being short lived and dropped almost immediately after. However, this aspect probably reflects the way that these kinds of investigations are really done, with not much to go on and so the investigator starts by clutching at straws, seeing if they will go anywhere. The other problem of the book for me was the end. Without wanting to give anything away (and I wont because this book is defiantly worth a read) the ending, for me, seemed too fast and had not had enough built up for it to make it truly effective.
Overall, I loved this book. There is something about thrillers, especially thrillers with as large a human element as this one does, that make them very difficult to put down. The fact that this is Seddon’s first novel makes it even more impressive than it would if it had come from one of giants of the thriller world (i.e. Tom Clancy). This book is definitely worth its length, and I personally can’t wait to see what this writer produces next.