Janice Galloway's The Trick Is to Keep Breathing
opens with a woman watching herself from the corner of a darkened room. Immediately, Janice Galloway sweeps us inside her heroine's confused psychology. Alone in her flat, the woman (ironically named "Joy") sits quietly in the dark, nervously checking the clock, jumping at the shrill ring of the telephone. We learn through a series of flashbacks that the twin deaths of her married lover and her mother have brought her to this state of intense neurosis: "I don't feel as if I'm really here at all". Fragmented sentences and an irregular typography help to capture her deepening sense of dislocation and bewilderment.
With such a depressing subject matter at hand, it would be easy for Galloway's prose to become irritatingly introverted. With her sharp wit, however, Galloway skilfully prevents her narrative from sliding into egotism and self-pity. There is a host of minor characters to provide comic relief--the overweight, awkward health visitor; the pompous, irascible doctor; the man from the bookies who is desperate to seduce her; and the ever-mad Ros, another patient on the psychiatric ward where Joy inevitably ends up.
Galloway is writing in a long-established tradition of confessional fiction with mentally disturbed women at its centre. Like Sylvia Plath in The Bell Jar and Susanna Kaysen in Girl, Interrupted, Galloway explores the complexities of the patient-doctor relationship. Where she differs is her sustained satire of the meagre attempts of doctors and psychiatrists to help their patients out of spiralling depressions. It is this sense of social critique that helped Galloway win two top awards--the American Academy EM Forster Award and the MIND/Allan Lane Book award--for this, her first novel. --Vanessa Cook
"A real achievement; its dialogue sparks and its voice is true. For Janice Galloway the trick is simply to keep writing" (Scotsman
"An account from the inside of a mind cracking up...its writing is as taut as a bowstring. From brilliant title to closing injunction, it hums with intelligence, clarity, wit; and, its heroine's struggle for order and meaning seduces our minds, exposes how close we all of us are to insanity. Joy, as Galloway's heroine reluctantly lets us know that she's called, is simply that dangerous step or two nearer the edge" (Listener
"This remarkably original work has gained Janice Galloway an almost immediate reputation as one of Scotland's most interesting serious prose writers" (Glasgow Herald
"Poignant and original...a wonderfully sensitive portrait of a woman who doesn't give up trying to find the "trick" to making life go on" (Ms ?
"Claustrophobic but extraordinary" (Sunday Times