Title: Try Not to Breathe
Author: Holly Seddon
Published: January 1st 2016
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller, Suspense, Crime
Rating: 5 stars
For fans of Lianne Moriarty, Paula Hawkins, and Tana French, an arresting debut novel of psychological suspense: a young journalist struggles to keep the demons of her alcoholism at bay as she finds her purpose again in tackling the mystery of a shocking headline-making crime, still unsolved after fifteen years.
Amy Stevenson was the biggest news story of 1995. Only fifteen years old, Amy disappeared walking home from school one day and was found in a coma three days later. Her attacker was never identified and her angelic face was plastered across every paper and nightly news segment.
Fifteen years later, Amy lies in the hospital, surrounded by 90’s Britpop posters, forgotten by the world until reporter Alex Dale stumbles across her while researching a routine story on vegetative patients.
Remembering Amy’s story like it was yesterday, she feels compelled to solve the long-cold case.
The only problem is, Alex is just as lost as Amy—her alcoholism has cost her everything including her marriage and her professional reputation.
In the hopes that finding Amy’s attacker will be her own salvation as well, Alex embarks on a dangerous investigation, suspecting someone close to Amy.
Told in the present by an increasingly fragile Alex and in dream-like flashbacks by Amy as she floats in a fog of memories, dreams, and music from 1995, Try Not to Breathe unfolds layer by layer to a breathtaking conclusion.
As far as psychological thrillers go, this is the best I have read for some time. Try Not to Breathe comes from debut author Holly Seddon. The inspiration for this gripping tale came to Seddon while she was listening to a radio show discuss patients in vegetative states. Amy Stevenson, the main character who is in a coma for the bulk of Try Not to Breathe, formed in Seddon’s mind after listening to this show. Seddon has also conducted extensive research through the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability to inform her first novel.
Try Not to Breathe is a book told in shifting time frames, moving from 1995 to 2010. It is also a narrative that shifts perspectives between the main players in the novel. In 1995, Amy Stevenson is fifteen years old and has her whole life ahead of her. Despite this, she is focussed on one thing, losing her virginity. Instead of waiting to lose her virginity to her patient and gentle long term boyfriend Jake, she makes the fatal decision to go with an older man. This older male figure has his way with her and then brutally attacks her, leaving Amy for dead. Amy somehow manages to survive the attack, but it leaves her in catatonic state and some 15 years later, Amy is still in a coma. Although Amy has limited brain activity, it seems she is somewhat aware of her surroundings. In 2010, Alex Dale enters the hospital where Amy has resided since her attack. Alex is a disgraced journalist, having once held a high ranking position at The Times. Now a freelance journalist, after battling the bottle, Alex has lost everything that she held dear. Alone and searching for a defining story to resurrect her career, Alex feels compelled to reinvestigate Amy’s case. Together with Amy’s high school boyfriend Jacob, who has never really let his old girlfriend go, the two work together to get to the bottom of who attacked Amy, as a perpetrator has never been arrested.
Try Not to Breathe is a book that falls into the category where it draws comparisons to Gone Girl. I have to agree with the cover quote from bestselling author Tess Gerritsen that ‘Not since The Girl on the Train have I been so captivated’. This book is a fantastic debut novel, the subject matter was definitely different and compelling. It was fascinating to read a fiction novel based around the research into those suffering from neuro disability. Through Amy’s story, I was able to glean information about the limits, as well as the abilities of these patients.
Part of my strong connection to this book lies in the time frame, setting and the characters. I too was a teenage girl in 1995, just like Amy, living in a similar region. I grew up appreciating the same music and fashion as Amy. I could understand the focus on losing your virginity at that age and the inevitable competitions, as well as school gossip that arose around this subject. This enabled me to feel a deep connection to Amy, allowing me to easily put myself in her place in 1995. It lead me to question – would I have made the same decision as Amy?
The shifting style of narration of this book, definitely adds another dimension to the reading of Try Not to Breathe. The reader is able to get inside the mind of Amy both in 1995 and 2010, as well as Alex and Amy’s boyfriend Jacob. As a result, the characterisation is strong. At many points the book became emotional and heartbreaking. Especially the sections focussed on Amy in 2010, where she knows she is not herself, but she fails to make sense of the state she exists in. However, I did take messages of hope in the book. The unlikely friendship that forms between two lost souls, Amy and Alex, is a shining feature in this novel.
Try Not to Breathe is one of those books that despite the dark subject matter, still compels you to continue to flick the pages, to solve the mystery as to who left Amy in this way. The plotting in the book is methodical, despite Alex, the main investigator, being a flawed character who is struggling to battle her own personal demons throughout the novel. I did have a changeable list of suspects as to who was involved in Amy’s attack, my suspicions though close, were proved wrong. Seddon presents the reader with a cleverly devised plot, that will have you guessing and reeling until the end.
It is very early on in the year, but Try Not to Breathe takes the title so far as the best psychological thriller I have read for some time. A mesmerising thriller, about a young woman attacked in her prime and another young woman redeeming herself, through giving her new found friend the justice she deserves. A worthy five star rating, from an author I am keen to read more from very soon.