The residual metaphor of drinking someone in, however, is a good one. As Sylvie continues to elude and confuse, the novel illuminates complex ideas about the difficulties of understanding other people. Readman tells a story of the violence that can exist in a family or a town, how difference and proximity are understood and respected, and how one self might try to capture another. Gentle and provocative by turns, Something Like Breathing asks good questions about the ways we might feel for someone, without consuming them.
Angela Readman’s luminous debut novel demonstrates the craft first showcased in her 2015 story collection Don’t Try This at Home... Nothing happens for ages, and then, at the two-thirds mark, everything happens at once... never slow nor dull, and yet the sudden abundance of events...leaves the reader feeling flustered... Despite minor flaws and a relatively small scope, however, Something Like Breathing is an auspicious work from a writer unusually skilled with language and subtext. It’s a sad, serious, beautiful novel worth diving into head first.
The island is a claustrophobic place, so it’s important not to be spotted with the unpopular kid or displaying supernatural abilities. Everyone knows everyone’s business, and as the girls are scrutinised, so too do they observe adult goings-on. They see but only half understand – “We were no longer children, nor were we adults”, thinks Lorrie. This is where Readman’s strength lies, in capturing that teenage state of in-between-ness.
The novel is sometimes clumsy in characterisation. Sylvie is saddled with cliché Scottishisms like “wee” and “bonnie”, while other chapters contain mildly irritating character summaries, which counter-productively make the island’s inhabitants feel less like real people and more like an accumulation of adjectives.